US to lift Omicron-related travel restrictions on southern African countries

Last month's constraints prevented all non-US citizens who had recently been in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and other African nations from entering the US

FILE PHOTO: A South African Airways (SAA) plane is towed at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, January 18, 2020. Picture taken January 18, 2020. REUTERS/Rogan Ward/File Photo

The US will lift travel restrictions to eight southern African countries on New Year’s Eve, the White House has announced.

The restrictions, imposed last month, were meant to blunt the spread of the Covid Omicron variant.

The November 29 ban barred nearly all non-US citizens who had recently been in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said on Twitter that the decision was recommended by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mr Munoz said the temporary travel bans bought scientists necessary time to study the new virus variant and conclude that the current vaccinations are effective in blunting its impact.

Omicron is now spreading rapidly throughout the US, including among the vaccinated, but a huge majority of those being admitted to hospital are unvaccinated.

“The restrictions gave us time to understand Omicron and we know our existing vaccines work against Omicron, esp boosted,” Mr Munoz wrote on Twitter.

Updated: December 24th 2021, 2:56 PM