The Biden administration will lift the travel ban for eight African countries that were among the first to report the highly contagious and rapidly spreading the Omicron variant.
White House spokesperson Kevin Munoz on Friday confirmed the restrictions will ease Dec. 31.
“This decision was recommended by [the CDC],” Munoz said on Twitter. “The restrictions gave us time to understand Omicron and we know our existing vaccines work against Omicron, esp[ecially] boosted.”
Last month, the Biden administration banned travel from South Africa, which first detected the virus, as well as nearby Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi and Mozambique.
Administration officials at the time said the ban wouldn’t permanently keep the variant out of the U.S., but instead would buy time for health officials to learn more about Omicron.
“We put the travel ban on to see how much time we had before it hit here so we could begin to decide what we needed by looking at what’s happening in other countries,” Biden told reporters Tuesday. “But we’re past that now.”
The administration additionally imposed a tighter testing window last month for travelers inbound to the U.S., requiring a negative Covid test just one day prior to travel instead of three.
The CDC still recommends U.S. travelers avoid high-risk countries with surging Omicron cases.
Meanwhile, the holiday travel season has not experienced a downturn despite surging Omicron variant cases across the country. TSA said its screeners saw nearly 2.2 million travelers Thursday. But Omicron has begun to take its toll on the airlines.
United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have all reported hundreds of cancellations ahead of the Christmas holiday, citing staff shortages amid Omicron. On Thursday, Airlines for America, which represents major U.S.-based carriers like American Airlines, JetBlue, United, among others, requested the CDC reconsider its isolation period for fully vaccinated individuals who experience a breakthrough Covid-19 infection stating the prolonged period to remain home will “exacerbate personnel shortages and create significant disruptions to our workforce and operations.”
“To address the potential impact of the current isolation policy effectively, we propose an isolation period of no more than 5 days from symptom onset for those who experience a breakthrough infection,” A4A president and CEO Nicholas Calio said.