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Lifting of US travel ban on 8 Omicron-impacted South African countries brings cheer

The US move is likely to make people, businesses and markets less fearful of Omicron

The Joe Biden administration has announced the lifting of a travel ban it had imposed last month on eight Omicron impacted southern African countries, saying that the existing US vaccines work against the Covid-19 variant.

The travel restrictions will be lifted on December 31, the White House said early Saturday, saying the move has been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the health protection agency of the United States.

"The restrictions gave us time to understand Omicron and we know our existing vaccines work against Omicron," tweeted White House Assistant Press Secretary Kevin Munoz.

The US move is likely to make people, businesses and markets less fearful of Omicron – a variant that had initially dampened spirits about the virulence and the longevity of Covid-19.

It was on November 26 – two days after South Africa informed the World Health Organisation (WHO) of a new B.1.1.529 (Omicron) variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, that was detected in that country – that the US had prohibited entry of foreign travellers from several African nations.

People who were physically present within Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States were not allowed to enter the country.

As the Omicron variant spread all over the world, several other countries also restricted travel from southern Africa.

Following Washington's decision, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor to discuss the announcement.

"The Secretary again thanked South Africa's scientists and government for their transparency and expertise. He emphasised the importance of the longstanding partnership between the United States and South Africa to combat the impacts of Covid-19," said US State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

The United States recently surpassed 50 million Covid-19 cases and 800,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The country saw the highest peak in Covid cases in January 2021, following the 2020 holiday season.

Also Read: Omicron effect: Hundreds of flights cancelled in US on Christmas Eve