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US to ease southern Africa travel restrictions on New Year's Eve

US to ease southern Africa travel restrictions on New Year's Eve

The US will lift restrictions on southern African countries on 31 December now that officials better understand the threat of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the White House said Friday.

With Omicron widespread in the US and worldwide, travellers from those nations won’t have a significant impact on the American case count, according to a senior Biden administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

South Africa’s rand led gains in emerging-market currencies after the White House announcement, which initially came via a press officer’s tweet. The rand rose as much as 0.9% to 15.5147 on the US dollar strongest level since 18 November.

The US government imposed restrictions on people travelling from South Africa and seven other nearby nations on 29 November because of the discovery of the Omicron variant. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified airlines they must provide the names of passengers who had traveled in southern Africa in recent days so local health agencies could conduct contact tracing.

The restrictions didn’t stop Omicron from entering the US and becoming the dominant strain of infection. The CDS said Monday that omicron now accounts for more than 70% of new US Covid cases.

US President Joe Biden told reporters on Tuesday he was considering lifting the restrictions after his health advisors had suggested he reconsider.