Biden reinstates US COVID travel restrictions, adds South Africa

US President Joe Biden will reinstate a ban on most non-US citizens entering the country, including people from Brazil and the United Kingdom where new, more transmissible variants of the coronavirus have emerged in recent months, and add South Africa to the restricted list, according to public health officials.

“We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa,” Dr Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in an interview with the Reuters news agency.

Arrivals from Ireland and 26 countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders will also be banned.

She added that the CDC was “putting in place this suite of measures to protect Americans and also to reduce the risk of these variants spreading and worsening the current pandemic.”

The move overturns a last-gasp decision from former President Donald Trump that the restrictions on Brazil and Europe be lifted from January 26 when new testing requirements are also due to come into force.

Biden, who took office on Wednesday, is taking an aggressive approach to combating the spread of the virus after Trump rejected mandates sought by health agencies and downplayed the severity of the pandemic. More than 25 million people in the United States have now been confirmed with COVID-19, about a quarter of the world’s total infections.

The South African variant, also known as the 501Y V2 variant, is 50 percent more infectious and has been detected in at least 20 countries.

The South African variant has not yet been found in the US but at least 20 US states have detected a UK variant known as B117, which is also significantly more transmissible. While current vaccines appear effective against the UK mutations, there are concerns the South African variant might be more resistant.