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Biden administration lifts travel restrictions on southern African countries

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Biden administration lifts travel restrictions on southern African countries
Arriving and departing passengers wait to be tested for COVID-19 at LAX in Los Angeles on Thursday. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 28 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden has revoked travel restrictions imposed last month on eight southern African countries in response to the rise of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the White House announced Tuesday.

Biden issued a proclamation lifting the restrictions on Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

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"The travel restrictions imposed by that proclamation are no longer necessary to protect the public health," Biden said in his new proclamation.

The restrictions were put in place in a late November proclamation after the World Health Organization designated Omicron as a variant of concern. The variant was first identified by Botswana and South African scientists in mid-November, but Omicron was detected in samples collected at roughly the same time in various countries around the world.

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The WHO and world leaders criticized countries that were quick to ban travel from South Africa and nearby countries since countries in other regions had also reported Omicron infections.

"This latest round of travel bans is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quick," South Africa's Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "Excellent science should be applauded and not punished."

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The eight southern African countries are now under the same U.S. travel restrictions as other countries. The United States requires all foreign visitors to be fully vaccinated and all travelers have a negative COVID-19 test within a day of leaving for the country.

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Also Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised its travel warnings for Malta, Moldova and Sweden to four or "very high." It also raised its warning for Argentina to three or "high."

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