President Joe Biden is expected to block travel for non-United States citizens who have recently visited South Africa as the spread of a new and concerning coronavirus variant has been detected.
The ban is to begin on Saturday.
Biden will also reinstate a ban on most travel from the United Kingdom, many countries in Europe, and Brazil, Reuters reported on Sunday, which he pledged to do after former President Donald Trump attempted to lift it.
“We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, told the wire service, adding 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 discovered in South Africa is believed to be 50% more infectious and scientists have warned current vaccines may not be as effective against it. So far, the strain has been reported in at least 20 countries.
Currently, South Africa is one of the countries allowing American tourists, requiring they arrive with a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their departure. South Africa first reopened to tourists from select countries in October before expanding that to all international travelers.
In addition to South Africa, Biden will reinstate a ban on travel from several other countries, reversing an executive order Trump signed in the final days of his presidency. The order, which was set to go into effect on Jan. 26, would have lifted restrictions first imposed last year on non-U.S. citizens arriving from the UK, Ireland, a large swath of the EU, and Brazil.
While a more contagious and potentially more deadly strain of coronavirus has been discovered in the UK — and made its way to several states in the U.S. — Reuters noted current vaccines appear to be effective against the UK mutations.
Starting Tuesday, all international travelers to the U.S. will have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 viral test before boarding a flight. The test must be taken within three days of their scheduled departure. Travelers will also be required to quarantine, according to an executive order, in line with the CDC’s recommendations of either 10 days or seven days if they report no symptoms and test negative for COVID-19.