At a briefing on Monday, President Biden said he doesn’t currently see the need to expand existing Omicron variant travel restrictions even though the variant has now been detected in at least 16 countries. The vast majority of those countries are outside of southern Africa where a travel ban has been introduced.
Although the Omicron variant could be even more transmissible than Delta and evade existing vaccines to a greater extent than previous variants, President Biden told reporters that travel bans would not be extended and that Americans should keep their existing holiday travel plans.
On Friday, Biden issued a proclamation banning travel for most non-U.S. citizens from eight southern African countries to the United States. The travel restrictions are designed to slow the spread of the Omicron variant but experts admit that the ban doesn’t go nearly far enough to prevent the variant from entering the United States.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hasn’t yet detected the variant in the U.S. it’s very likely that Omicron is already in the community to some extent.
So far, Omicron has been confirmed in cases in Hong Kong and Israel, as well as the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Austria, Czech Republic, Australia, Canada and Portugal.
The administration refused to remove a sweeping travel ban when Biden was sworn in as President in January which was introduced at the start of the pandemic by then President Trump.
At the time, the administration cited the highly-transmissible Delta variant as the main reason for keeping the restrictions in place despite the fact that Delta had already spread around the world.
The 212(f) travel ban was only lifted earlier in November in favor of pre-departure testing and restrictions on unvaccinated travelers. Biden hoped the new rules would be a long term solution but it took less than a month for restrictions to be placed back on travel from South Africa.
Later on Monday, however, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki warned that the administration was still actively assessing whether additional travel restrictions would be required.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged governments to lift Omicron travel restrictions as soon as possible, effectively once the variant has spread and the restrictions become superfluous.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.