Biden will evaluate travel restrictions on southern Africa ‘week to week’

President Biden
Associated Press/Susan Walsh

President Biden said Tuesday that his administration would reevaluate travel restrictions on southern African countries “week to week” depending on what health experts learn about the omicron coronavirus variant.

“it kind of depends,” Biden told reporters in Minnesota when asked how long the travel restrictions, which took effect Monday, would last. 

“We’ll learn a lot more in the next couple of weeks” about the variant, Biden added. 

Biden also said he would inform allies if further travel restrictions were deemed necessary, though he cast doubt on the possibility Monday. 

“Unlike Trump, I don’t shock our allies,” Biden quipped in response to a reporter’s question about the former president catching allies off guard with coronavirus travel restrictions. 

The U.S. lifted pandemic-related travel restrictions less than a month ago on vaccinated travelers from a host of places in Europe, the United Kingdom (U.K.), Canada and Mexico.

As concerns grew over the omicron variant, the Biden administration announced Friday plans to restrict travel to the U.S. from South Africa and seven other countries in southern Africa, where the variant was first detected. 

The U.S. joined a swell of other nations barring travelers from southern Africa. Still, the omicron variant has been found in other countries, including Canada and the U.K. Biden administration officials said Tuesday they were working to determine if there are any cases in the U.S., but none have been confirmed.

Biden made the comments to reporters after spending the afternoon in Minnesota promoting the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill he signed into law earlier this month. 

The president sought to calm the public with a speech addressing the coronavirus variant on Monday, describing it as a cause for concern but not panic. He also urged Americans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and for those who are eligible to get their booster shot, describing the vaccines as the best protection against the virus. 

Health experts expect to learn more about omicron’s transmissibility, the degree to which the vaccines are effective against the variant and the severity of the illness it causes in the coming weeks.

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