President Joe Biden issued a presidential proclamation Tuesday revoking a proclamation put in place last month that enacted travel restrictions on eight southern African nations, including South Africa, as the Omicron variant began to spread.
The proclamation repeals the ban as of 12:01 a.m. ET on December 31.
CNN had previously reported Biden’s intent to lift the restrictions.
The travel restrictions had come under fire across the globe, described by United Nations Secretary General António Guterres as “travel apartheid.” Biden administration officials repeatedly defended the move as an action to give the US more time to understand the variant and its spread.
“The travel restrictions imposed by that proclamation are no longer necessary to protect the public health,” Biden said in the new proclamation.
Tuesday’s proclamation noted that scientists have determined that people vaccinated against Covid-19 “are protected against severe disease and hospitalization from the Omicron variant.” It also said that the variant is now in over 100 countries and is “prevalent” in the US, where cases have been rising for weeks. It said that “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 barred nearly all foreign nationals who had been “physically present” in the countries during the “14-day period preceding their entry, or attempted entry into the United States.” US citizens, lawful permanent residents and non-citizens who are the spouses of citizens or permanent residents were exempt.
Biden said on December 21 that he was “considering” 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 the US has imposed on other countries, requiring foreigners be fully vaccinated and that all travelers get a negative coronavirus test within one day of departure to the US.
A senior administration official said last week that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the restrictions be lifted for two key reasons.
“First, our nation’s health officials have made progress in understanding Omicron; importantly, our existing vaccines are effective against severe disease with Omicron, especially if you’re boosted. Second, with Omicron now present across the US and globally, international travelers from these countries will not have a significant impact on US cases,” the official said.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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