In a rapidly developing situation, President Biden said that most travelers (excluding U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents) who have been in any of eight countries in southern Africa for the prior 14 days are barred from entry into the United States. The travel ban took effect November 29, 2021. The countries include South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. He said this was in response to concerns and unknowns about a new coronavirus variant, called Omicron (B.1.1.529), which appears to be rapidly spreading in South Africa and is also present in other countries.
The Biden administration indicated that more countries could be added to the restricted list if warranted. Several other countries also issued similar travel bans and restrictions, including the European Union, Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. The variant, which is being studied to determine its contagiousness, severity, and ability to circumvent immunity, has been detected in several countries in addition to Africa, including Belgium, Brazil, Hong Kong, Israel, the United Kingdom, and Germany.
Meanwhile, as of November 27, 2021, the Department of State issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice for South Africa: “Do not travel to South Africa due to COVID-19.”
- “A Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus Disease 2019,” White House, Nov. 26, 2021
- “U.S. Imposes Travel Ban From Eight African Countries Over Omicron Variant,” Nov. 27, 2021
- “Omicron Variant Detected From Britain to Hong Kong as Countries Race to Impose Controls,” Washington Post, Nov. 27, 2021
- South Africa Travel Advisory, Dept. of State, Nov. 27, 2021