The United States announced Friday it is restricting travel from eight southern African countries over fears of a new variant of COVID-19, a US official said.
Travel will be restricted starting Monday from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi, a senior Biden administration official said.
Only US citizens and residents will still be able to travel from the eight countries, the official added.
The decision came hours after senior US government scientist Anthony Fauci said Washington wanted more data on a worrisome new COVID-19 variant first detected in southern Africa before joining other countries in banning flights from the region.
Fauci told CNN that while “there’s always the possibility” of blocking flights, “you want to make sure there’s a basis for doing that. And that’s what we’re doing right now.”
He said there was “no indication” yet that the newly identified strain of COVID-19 had reached the United States.
“As soon as we find out more information, we will make a decision as quickly as we possibly can,” said Fauci, who is President Joe Biden’s top adviser on the coronavirus.
“You don’t want to say you’re going to do it until you have some scientific reason to do it. That is the reason why we’re rushing now to get that scientific data.”
It was not clear why the US position mere hours later seemed to contradict Fauci’s comments.
Meanwhile Friday, EU officials holding an emergency meeting over the variant, dubbed Omicron, agreed to urge all 27 nations in the bloc to restrict travel from that region.
Britain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands are among nations suspending flights from South Africa and surrounding countries, while Japan will require travelers from the region to quarantine for 10 days.
Saudi Arabia was among countries in the Middle East and North Africa to ban travelers from several African nations due to fears over a new coronavirus variant.
The Saudi ban comprises flights to and from those countries, the official Saudi Press Agency said, quoting an interior ministry official.