U.S. to restrict air travel from 8 countries over new COVID variant concerns

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  • Joe Biden
    Joe Biden
    46th and current president of the United States

The U.S. will impose new air travel restrictions in response to the Omicron variant, a new COVID strain first detected in South Africa, President Biden announced Friday.

The big picture: Air travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be restricted starting on Monday.

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  • The new policy does not apply to American citizens and permanent residents.

  • The restrictions are being implemented "out an abundance of caution," the administration officials said, adding that this step was recommended by U.S. government medical experts and the COVID-19 Response Team.

What they're saying: Biden said the new restrictions were "a precautionary measure," and that he would continue to be guided by what science and his medical team advises.

  • "For the world community: this news is a reminder that this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations," he added.

  • "The U.S. has already donated more vaccines to other countries than every other country combined. It is time for other countries to match our speed and generosity," Biden said.

The Omicron variant, known formally as B.1.1.529, has already caused countries across Europe and Asia to implement travel restrictions.

  • The variant was first reported to the World Health Organization on Nov. 24.

  • "This variant has a large number of mutations," the WHO said in a statement Friday, calling the new strain a "variant of concern."

  • Early evidence suggests "an increased risk of reinfection with this variant compared to other" variants of concern, it added.

  • The Omicron variant likely evolved during a chronic infection of an immunocompromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient, Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, said in a statement.

Go deeper: New COVID variant concerns South African scientists.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details.

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