US President Joe Biden had imposed a travel ban on most non-US citizens entering the country who had recently been to South Africa. The ban had started over the past weekend.
A senior Biden spokesperson said that an entry ban would also be re-imposed on American citizens who had travelled to Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe allowing travel across open borders.
“We are adding SA to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond SA,” Dr Anne Schuchat, the Centres for Disease Control’s (CDC) principal deputy director, said over the weekend.
She said 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 pandemic”.
Former president Donald Trump directed on January 18 that these restrictions on Brazil and Europe be lifted, but Biden’s proclamation would rescind that decision. Biden, who took office last Wednesday, is taking an aggressive approach to combating the spread of the coronavirus after Trump rejected mandates sought by US health agencies.
Some health officials are concerned current vaccines may not be effective against the SA variant, which also raises the prospect of reinfection.
The SA variant, also known as the 501Y.V2 variant, is 50% more infectious and had been detected in at least 20 countries.