Coronavirus

US to lift travel ban on 8 southern African countries

President Joe Biden speaks from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, on his administrations plans to lower the costs of prescription drugs, letting Medicare negotiate drug prices, capping how much seniors and people with disabilities have to pay for drugs. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. will lift travel restrictions to eight southern African countries on New Year’s Eve, the White House announced Friday.

The restrictions, imposed last month, were meant to blunt the spread of the COVID omicron variant.

The Nov. 29 ban barred nearly all non-U.S. 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 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 U.S., including among the vaccinated, but a huge majority of those being hospitalized are unvaccinated.

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