The White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday said that no date had been set to lift the travel restrictions President Joseph R. Biden Jr. imposed on eight African nations on November 29 over the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Psaki’s answer came on the same day that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new data, showing that even with the ban on African nations, the Omicron variant is now considered the most dominant version of the coronavirus in the United States, making up 73 percent of new COVID-19 infections last week.
The new estimates captured cases for the week that ended on December 18, and show how the Omicron variant is fast spreading.
On December 11, only 12.6 percent of positive COVID-19 cases had been detected in the United States. That number skyrocketed to 73 percent just within seven days, even with the ban on African nations in place.
At her regular press briefing on Monday, Jen Psaki was asked, “Does the administration have any plans to lift the travel ban on several Southern African countries, given the fact that Omicron is clearly already here and is kind of spreading pretty rapidly?”
She responded, “I mean, our objective is to not — this is not a permanent ban at all; it is temporary. And we are continuing to assess day to day the decision to lift that ban. But, yes, that is our intention to lift the ban. And I don’t have a timeline on that at this point in time, to conclude my answer there.”
President Biden issued a presidential proclamation on November 26 restricting entry into the United States to most non-U.S. citizens in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa,Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in an effort to slow the introduction of the new Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. The travel ban went into effect on Monday, November 29, just three days after the Omicron variant was classified a variant of concern by the World Health Organization on November 26.
With specific exceptions, the presidential proclamation suspended entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of noncitizens of the United States who were physically present within the eight southern African countries during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.
Under that travel ban, citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States, certain family members, and other individuals who meet specified exceptions, who had been in one of the eight southern African nations will be allowed to enter the United States.
Other countries in Europe, Asia and elsewhere also imposed travel bans on African nations over the Omicron variant, a decision that has damaged businesses in those countries that are still recovering from the COVID-19 economic turmoil.
But with the criticisms that followed, especially with community spread of the variant in those countries, the United Kingdom and Canada for instance lifted their travel bans on African nations. But the United States has not.