US to lift travel ban on southern African countries
On New Year's eve, the United States will lift the travel ban imposed on eight southern African nations.
Next week, the United States will lift the travel ban imposed on several southern African nations when COVID’s latest variant, Omicron, was first detected, officials said Friday.
The ban applied to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.
After the variant was detected in South Africa, countries around the world restricted travel from the country that reported Omicron to the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 24.
Following the ban, South Africa announced it was being "punished" for detecting the new Omicron coronavirus variant, with officials stressing that despite the detection of new variants in other countries, "the reaction to those countries is starkly different to cases in southern Africa."
In their part, WHO and the United Nations called on countries not to impose travel bans on southern African nations amid the spread of the new Coronavirus variant.
White House Assistant Press Secretary Kevin Munoz said the travel ban would be lifted on December 31.
A senior White House official added that with Omicron present across the United States and globally, international travelers from the eight affected countries would not have a significant impact on US cases.
"During the travel pause President Biden reduced the time for pre-departure testing to one day as opposed to three days," the official said. "Travelers from these eight countries will be subject to these same strict protocols."
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken later Friday spoke with South African International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor over the announcement.
"The Secretary again thanked South Africa's scientists and government for their transparency and expertise," State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.
Omicron infection rates are surging across South Africa, but fewer people have died or required hospital treatment compared to previous waves of Covid, local health officials say.
Omicron is known to be far more contagious than previous variants of Covid-19 but appears to cause a less severe illness than its predecessors.
Omicron hinders holiday travel
More than 2,300 flights are reported to have been delayed or canceled globally due to increasing infection rates of the latest COVID variant.
According to Flightaware.com, over 2,325 flights have been delayed or canceled. On Christmas Day, Saturday, 1,400 flights are scheduled as canceled.
Increased Covid infections are the reason for the mass delays as more pilots, flight attendants, and other airport personnel is unable to be present for work.