President Joe Biden did not rule out the possibility of further travel restrictions to combat or delay the spread of the omicron variant of Covid-19.
Speaking with reporters on Monday, Mr Biden was asked whether his administration would consider further extending bans beyond the southern region of Africa if the variant was detected on a wide scale in other countries.
“Are you considering additional travel restrictions on countries where the variant has been detected?” asked a reporter for The Wall Street Journal.
“The degree of the spread impacts on whether or not there’s a need for any travel restriction. But that’s not, I don’t anticipate that at this point. And we’ll see, we’ll see where that works,” Mr Biden explained.
Mr Biden’s remarks come just a few days after his administration moved during the typically quiet Thanksgiving holiday weekend to institute a ban on travel from eight countries, including South Africa, that took effect today. The ban does not affect US citizens.
Biden administration officials have continued to push more Americans to receive a Covid-19 jab as statistics from hospitals around the country make it clear that unvaccinated Americans now make up the vast majority of those hospitalised with serious Covid-19 infections.
Just about 70 per cent of the total US population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 immunisation.
The president said on Monday that there was no cause for panic as scientists track the spread of the new omicron variant, and encouraged all Americans, even those vaccinated, to mask up when in close contact with others, especially indoors.
That precaution along with rising vaccinations would allow Americans to enjoy the holiday season without lockdown measures being recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said Mr Biden.
“If people are vaccinated and they’re masked, there’s no need for lockdowns”, he told reporters.
The US recently expanded vaccination eligibility to kids as young as 5, and have urged adults over the 18 to get a third Covid-19 booster jab (or second if they received the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine).
Some scientists and public health experts are worried that the omicron variant could prove to be more transmissible than previous strains of the Covid-19 virus, including the delta variant. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stressed that such fears have not yet been proven to be the case, while stressing that the variant is one of “concern” and urging more research on it as soon as possible.
There is some “preliminary” evidence pointing to the variant carrying a higher risk for reinfection among those that previously contracted other variants of Covid-19, according to the WHO’s website.
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