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US to ease southern Africa travel with omicron everywhere

Passengers wait to board a flight at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Nov. 28, 2021. (Dimitri Korczak/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
December 24, 2021

The U.S. will lift restrictions on southern African countries on Dec. 31 now that officials better understand the threat of the omicron variant of COVID-19, the White House said Friday.

With omicron widespread in the U.S. and worldwide, travelers from those nations won’t have a significant impact on the American case count, according to a senior Biden administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

South Africa’s rand led gains in emerging-market currencies after the White House announcement, which initially came via a press officer’s tweet. The rand rose as much as 0.9% to 15.5147 on the U.S. dollar strongest level since Nov. 18.

The government imposed restrictions on people traveling from South Africa and seven other nearby nations on Nov. 29 because of the discovery of the omicron variant. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified airlines they must provide the names of passengers who had traveled in southern Africa in recent days so local health agencies could conduct contact tracing.

The restrictions didn’t stop omicron from entering the U.S. and becoming the dominant strain of infection. The CDS said Monday that omicron now accounts for more than 70% of new U.S. COVID cases.

President Joe Biden told reporters on Tuesday he was considering lifting the restrictions after his health advisers had suggested he reconsider.


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