Beginning December 31, 2021, the United States will relax travel restrictions imposed on eight countries in southern Africa.
South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi have all been placed under travel restrictions.
According to White House Assistant Secretary Kevin Munoz, the decision to relax the travel restriction was made on the suggestion of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While Omicron is now the most common COVID-19 variant in the United States, preliminary data from South Africa and the United Kingdom suggests that patients with this variant have a lower risk of hospitalization.
The Biden administration issued Proclamation 10315 on November 26, 2021, after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Omicron to be a variation of concern (Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus Disease 2019).
The proclamation halted and restricted non-US citizens from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi from entering the United States.
According to the White House, the limits were put in place to prevent the spread of the Omicron variation in the United States and allow the country to implement appropriate mitigation measures as new information about the variant became available.
In an official proclamation dated December 28, 2021, President Biden said:
“Having learned more about the Omicron variant in the past several weeks, the CDC now recommends lifting the travel restrictions imposed in Proclamation 10315. Since I issued that proclamation, our Nation’s health officials, in collaboration with the South African scientists who originally reported the variant, have made substantial progress in understanding the Omicron variant.”
The CDC’s recommended isolation and quarantine period for asymptomatic COVID-19 positive and exposed people has been lowered, according to the president.