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U.S. State Department advises against travel to eight African countries

By Jake Thomas
U.S. State Department advises against travel to eight African countries
A man looks out over the runway from the main viewing room as South African Airlines jets prepare to take off from the main runway at Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg in 2016. The U.S. State Department on Saturday urged travelers to stay away from the country out of concern for the new Omicron variant of COVID-19. File Photo by Kim Ludbrook/EPA

Nov. 27 (UPI) -- The U.S. State Department on Saturday issued its highest-level alert urging travelers to avoid South Africa and seven nearby countries out of concerns over the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.

The alerts come a day after the World Health Organization identified Omicron as a "variant of concern" because its mutations could make it more transmissible. While scientists have said they're reviewing data to understand dangers posed by the variant, the U.S. and the European Union have moved ahead with travel bans on South Africa and neighboring countries where it was identified.

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The department updated its advisories to "Level 4 - Do Not Travel" for South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana.

The advisory is typically used to warn travelers of kidnappings, civil unrest or violence. On Monday, the department issued Level 4 alerts for Germany and Denmark where COVID-19 cases have surged.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during an appearance on Weekend TODAY that the variant could already be in the U.S. and warned people not to let their guard down.

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In anticipation of strains the virus could put on the health system, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order intended to boost hospital capacity and secure supplies.

"We continue to see warning signs of spikes in COVID this winter, and while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it's coming," she said in a statement.

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