The Biden administration announced Friday that it would lift the ban on travel to the United States from eight African nations, reversing a policy that the administration imposed after the outbreak of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
The administration imposed the ban on November 29th after the Omicron variant was first detected circulating in South Africa. The initial order prohibited any non-citizen who had recently been in the countries of South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique or Malawi from entering the United States. The ban will be allowed to expire on December 31st.
A White House spokesperson tweeted about the decision Friday morning, saying that it was “recommended by [the CDC.]”
The tweet further claimed that the restrictions “gave us time to understand Omicron and we know our existing vaccines work against Omicron, esp. boosted.”
While there is data suggesting that vaccines remain effective at reducing the severity of illness with Omicron, the vaccines have largely failed to prevent its spread, as Omicron appears to spread just as rapidly among the vaccinated population as among the unvaccinated. Preliminary data suggests that the Omicron variant is much milder in severity than its predecessors, but spreads more easily.
Travel bans have been a controversial element of the government’s COVID mitigation strategy. In the early stages of the pandemic, the Trump administration announced a travel ban on flights incoming from China, a move that was blasted by then-candidate Biden as an example of “hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering.”
After Biden imposed his own travel ban and was confronted with this quote, he claimed, rather implausibly, that this referred to Trump’s response to the Ebola virus crisis in 2014. Biden would later reverse himself on the campaign trail, saying, “Travel restrictions, when supported by science, advocated by public health officials, and backed by a full strategy can be warranted. Travel restrictions can buy time; but here, the time they bought for preparation was squandered when Trump used it to downplay, rather than ready the country for, the disease.”
When Biden announced his own travel ban on the eight African countries, this move was likewise criticized by some health experts who declared that it would be ineffective.