President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he is “considering” whether to lift the US’ travel ban on South Africa and seven other southern African countries that was put in place as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus began to spread.
The ban has come under increasing scrutiny as the strain is already the predominant one in new cases in the US, and has run rampant in other countries that have not seen similar travel restrictions.
“I’m considering reversing (the travel ban), I’m going to talk to my team in the next couple days,” Biden told reporters after a speech on Covid-19 at the White House.
In late November, Biden acted on advice from the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by restricting travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. The Omicron variant eventually made its way to the US and is now the dominant strain of coronavirus in the country, accounting for more than 73% of new cases, according to the CDC.
“Remember why I said we put the travel ban on – it was to see how much time we had before it hit here so we could begin to decide what we needed by looking at what was happening in other countries,” Biden said. “And we’re past that now, and so it’s something that’s being raised with me by the docs and I’ll have an answer for that soon.”
For days the White House has been giving a similar answer on the restrictions. On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the ban was never meant to be permanent, and that the administration was “continuing to assess day to day the decision to lift that ban.”
This is a breaking story and will be updated.