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Biden issues a proclamation revoking travel restrictions in South Africa

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The proclamation repeals the ban from 12:01 am ET on December 31st.

Travel restrictions had been criticized around the world, described by UN Secretary-General António Guterres as “travel apartheid”. Biden administration officials have repeatedly advocated for the measure as an action to give the United States more time to understand the variant and its spread.

“The travel restrictions imposed by this proclamation are no longer necessary to protect public health,” Biden said in the new proclamation.

Tuesday’s proclamation noted that scientists have determined that people vaccinated against Covid-19 “are protected from serious illness and hospitalization by the Omicron variant.” He also said the variant is now found in more than 100 countries and is “prevalent” in the US, where cases have been on the rise for weeks. He said “substantial progress” has been made in understanding the Omicron variant.

Biden ordered the restrictions in late November on the advice of his public health officials, cutting off most travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. The measures banned almost all foreigners who had been “physically present” in the countries during the “14-day period prior to their entry or attempted entry into the United States.” U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, and noncitizens who are spouses of citizens or permanent residents were exempt.

Biden said on December 21 that he was “thinking” of lifting the restrictions, and officials said Biden had been urged in recent days to reverse the ban. The eight countries will now be subject to the same coronavirus travel protocols that the United States has imposed on other countries, which require that foreigners be fully vaccinated and that all travelers have a negative coronavirus test within one day of departure. USA.

A senior government official said last week that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended lifting the restrictions for two key reasons.

“First of all, our country’s health officials have advanced their understanding of Omicron; it is important that our existing vaccines are effective against serious illness with Omicron, especially if you are strengthened. Secondly, with Omicron now present in the U.S. and around the world, international travelers from these countries will not have a significant impact on U.S. cases, “the official said.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.

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