President Joe Biden on Friday, Nov. 26, announced an air travel ban for South Africa and some other countries, citing risks from a new COVID-19 variant. However, he previously criticized the predecessor Donald Trump as xenophobic for taking the same policy.
“As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries,” Biden said in a speech, explaining that he had been briefed by his chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci and his COVID response team.
“These new restrictions will take effect on Nov. 29,” Biden added. “As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises.”
According to the White House, the administration will ban travelers entering the United States from South Africa, the Republic of Botswana, the Kingdom of Eswatini, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Republic of Malawi, the Republic of Mozambique, the Republic of Namibia, and the Republic of Zimbabwe.
In addition to these travel restrictions, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will implement other mitigation measures for travelers departing from those countries destined for the United States.
In his speech, Biden urged those fully vaccinated Americans to get a booster shot, saying they are safe, free, and convenient. He called on the unvaccinated to get the vaccines.
It is not clear if the available vaccines would effectively combat the new variant, called Omicron.
For the world community, Biden said that the news about Omicron “should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations.” he urged other countries to match America’s speed and generosity in vaccinating their people.
Biden also called on the nations gathering for the World Trade Organization next week to meet the U.S. challenge to waive intellectual property protections for COVID vaccines so that vaccines can be manufactured globally.
A dozen countries have also imposed a travel ban on Friday.
The Omicron variant was reportedly identified in South Africa this week and is spreading through the country. It is also classified as the Delta variant, labeled as a highly transmissible variant of concern.
According to Politico, there is no evidence suggesting the Omicron variant causes more severe disease.
In 2020, when former President Donald Trump imposed travel restrictions from China into the United States in response to the spread of COVID-19, Biden, as a presidential candidate, slammed him for hysteria and fear-mongering.
“We are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus. We need to lead the way with science—not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering. He is the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health emergency,” he tweeted at that time.