Biden delayed Africa travel ban over Omicron on advice of advisers led by Fauci

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President Biden said Friday that he delayed implementation of a new ban on travel from southern Africa on the advice of his medical advisers, who are led by Dr. Anthony Fauci.

A reporter asked Biden why the emergency precaution will take effect Monday, rather than immediately to contain the potentially more contagious Omicron version of COVID-19.

“Why not do it now like other countries have done?” the journalist asked Biden, who is spending a long Thanksgiving weekend in Nantucket.

Biden said “the recommendation is coming from my medical team.” Fauci is Biden’s chief medical adviser and was among the officials who spent a half-hour briefing Biden on Friday.

Just hours before the eight-country travel ban was announced, Fauci gave the impression he wasn’t recommending a new travel ban and cited a need for more data.

“There is always the possibility of doing what the UK has done, namely block travel from South Africa and related countries,” Fauci said in a CNN interview.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden insists that countries “can’t hide the variants” from the public.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Passengers line up for a COVID-19 test before boarding at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa on November 26, 2021.
Passengers line up for a COVID-19 test before boarding at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Nov. 26, 2021.
REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham/File

“That’s certainly something you think about and get prepared to do. You’re prepared to do everything you need to protect the American public. But you want to make sure there’s a basis for doing that.”

Passengers traveling from South Africa are tested for COVID-19 after arriving at Schiphol Airport, Netherlands on November 25, 2021.
Passengers traveling from South Africa are tested for COVID after arriving at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands on Nov. 25, 2021.
via REUTERS

Fauci added in that interview: “Obviously as soon as we find out more information we’ll make a decision as quickly as we possibly can.”

While taking questions from reporters after the ban was announced, Biden knocked a reporter’s question about whether the new travel restriction could incentivize countries to hide new COVID-19 variants.

“That’s ridiculous because you can’t hide the variants. It’s not like someone could hide the fact that there’s a new variant and people getting sick,” Biden said.

So far, the Omicron variant, named after a letter in the Greek alphabet, has been detected in Botswana, South Africa, Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel. The infected person in Belgium had traveled recently to Egypt and Turkey and the Israeli patient recently visited Malawi, which is one of the countries covered by the new travel ban.

Although the new variant might be more contagious and vaccine-resistant due to a high number of mutations, Biden urged people to continue to get vaccinated.

“Here’s the deal: Every American who has not been vaccinated should be responsible and be vaccinated – it’s five years and over… Everyone eligible for booster shots should get the booster shot immediately upon being eligible. That is the minimum that everyone should be doing,” he said.

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden will hold off on banning travel from South Africa and other countries off the recommendation of White House Chief Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
People with masks walk at a shopping mall in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday Nov. 26, 2021.
Dr. Anthony Fauci says his team needs more information on the Omicron COVID-19 variant in South Africa.
AP Photo/Denis Farrell

Biden added: “You know we always talk about this is about freedom. I think it’s a patriotic responsibility.”

Biden sought to mandate vaccination or weekly testing upon employers with 100 or more workers, but that dictate is tied up in court. Asked if he was considering “any new mandates,” Biden said, “No, not at the moment.”

Workers prepare ahead of South Africa's national airline, South African Airways (SAA),
The Omicron COVID-19 variant has reportedly emerged in five countries.
REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File

The Biden administration this month ended a long-running ban on travel from early COVID-19 hotspots including Europe and adopted a policy where people who enter the US by plane must be vaccinated and also get tested for the virus within three days. But rapid tests of dubious accuracy are allowed and residents of poorer countries, many of them in Africa, were exempted from the vaccine requirement.

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