Biden restricts travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting Monday
The decision to restrict travel comes as the federal government is still attempting to learn more about the new variant. They need to see more sequencing, but after discussing what they’ve seen so far, officials decided to halt travel from these other countries out of concern about what they don’t yet know.
Biden was briefed today on the new coronavirus variant circulating in southern Africa, he said in the announcement.
Officials, who are still learning more about the variant, said the policy was implemented out of an abundance of caution given the WHO has now identified this as a variant of concern.
“Our scientists and public health officials are working quickly to learn more about this variant,” one official said.
South Africa’s health minister announced Thursday the discovery of the variant, which appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of the country.
Currently, “there’s no indication” that the new variant is in the United States right now — and US scientists are working closely with colleagues in South Africa to learn more about the emerging variant, Fauci told Fintech Zoom’s Brianna Keilar before the travel restrictions were announced Friday.
“Right now, we’re getting the material together with our South African colleagues to get a situation where you could actually directly test it. So, right now you’re talking about sort of like a red flag that this might be an issue — but we don’t know,” Fauci said.
“You want to find out if in fact it does evade the vaccines that we’re doing,” Fauci said when asked about potential travel restrictions. “You’re prepared to do everything you need to do to protect the American public, but you want to make sure there’s a basis for doing that.”
Several other countries — including the United Kingdom — have banned flights from South Africa and surrounding African countries in response to the emergence of the variant.
The travel restrictions do not apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents. As with all international travelers, they must still test negative prior to travel.
This story has been updated with additional information.
Fintech Zoom’s Allie Malloy contributed to this report.