The Biden administration will reimpose a travel ban on most non-U.S. citizens entering the country from the United Kingdom, most other European countries, and Brazil, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.
The move is designed to “reduce the spread of COVID-19 through travel, especially as we see faster-spreading variants emerging across the world,” said Psaki, who noted that South Africa will be added to the list.
Last year, scientists in the UK discovered a new variant of CCP virus, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, that’s believed to spread faster than the original one that emerged in 2019 in mainland China. Officials have also sounded the alarm about a strain of the CCP virus that emerged recently in South Africa.
“We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) principal deputy director, in a Reuters interview on Jan. 25.
The CDC is “putting in place this suite of measures to protect Americans and also to reduce the risk of these variants spreading and worsening the current pandemic,” Schuchat said.
Recently, the CDC determined that South Africa is “experiencing widespread, ongoing person-to-person transmission” of the B.1.351 strain of the virus, while Brazil has its own variant known as B.126.96.36.199, according to a proclamation from Biden on the White House website, which listed exemptions to the travel rule.
President Donald Trump had rescinded travel restrictions on Brazil and Europe on Jan. 18; Biden’s proclamation will effectively undo Trump’s executive order.
All passengers entering the United States will have to clear a CCP virus test that must be administered no more than 72 hours prior to the scheduled departure time to the United States, according to Psaki.
In addition to most of Europe, Brazil, and South Africa, the U.S. is also restricting travel from China and Iran.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Jan. 22 said there’s evidence that the B.1.1.7 variant found last year in England is associated with a higher mortality rate.
“We’ve been informed today that in addition to spreading more quickly, it also now appears that there is some evidence that the new variant—the variant that was first discovered in London and the southeast [in England]—may be associated with a higher degree of mortality,” he said in a news conference on Jan. 22. The variant, he said, could be up to 30 percent more deadly than the original CCP virus.
With the original COVID-19, out of 1,000 people aged 60 or older, about 10 might be at risk of death. But with the new B.1.1.7 variant, 13 or 14 people out of 1,000 who are 60 or older might die, Johnson said.
The UK variant has been discovered in about a dozen U.S. states so far, including New York, Illinois, and California.
Earlier in January, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC the variant found in South Africa may pose more of a problem.
“I’m incredibly worried about the South African variant, and that’s why we took the action that we did to restrict all flights from South Africa,” he said. “This is a very, very significant problem … and it’s even more of a problem than the UK new variant.”