US president Joe Biden will introduce new travel restrictions for the United States on Monday (25 Janaury), including a ban on travel to and from South Africa.
A senior US health official told Reuters that the ban would prevent most non-US citizens from entry if they have recently been in South Africa, due to the new variant of Covid-19 which has been identified in the country.
Biden on Monday will also reimpose an entry ban on nearly all non-US travellers who have been in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders.
“We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, in an interview Sunday.
She added the agency 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 variant – currently termed the ‘501.V2 Variant’ – was identified by genomics scientists in South Africa and formally announced by government in late December.
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said a genomics team, led by the Kwazulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform, or KRISP, has sequenced hundreds of samples from across the country since the beginning of the pandemic in March.
They noticed that a particular variant has increasingly dominated the findings of the samples collected in the past two months.
In a national address on 11 January, president Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed that South Africa’s second coronavirus wave was being driven by this new variant.
Studies have since shown that the variant is around 50% more infectious and transmissible, but there has not been any evidence to indicate that it is more severe or more deadly.
Added to the list
The US is the latest in a list of countries which have limited or blocked travel to and from South Africa, citing concerns around the new variant.
Last week KLM Royal Dutch airlines announced the discontinuation of flights to and from South Africa after the Dutch government placed a travel ban on the country.
The ban, which is in effect from 23 January 2021, includes all flights with passengers from South Africa, the UK and various countries in South America to the Netherlands, due to continued Covid-19 safety concerns.
The United Arab Emirates also announced travel restrictions for South Africa and a number of other countries.
Under the restrictions, you will not be able to enter Dubai if you have been in South Africa within 10 days of departure to Dubai or emirates. This includes transiting in other countries within 10 days before travelling to Dubai.
Travellers holding valid Dubai residence visas will also need government approval before being allowed to depart from South Africa.