Travel by non-citizens to the United States from South Africa will be banned due to concerns about the spread of a variant of the coronavirus in that country. And the bans put in place last year on travel from Brazil, 27 European countries and Britain will be extended, the Biden administration said on Monday.
The move comes as officials in the new administration try to get their hands on a rapidly evolving pandemic, with public health officials rushing to vaccinate the public – and expand vaccine supply – as more contagious variants of the coronavirus are spreading.
Dr Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s leading infectious disease specialist, said the variant of the virus in South Africa appears to be more highly contagious.
Moderna said his vaccine was effective against new variants of the coronavirus that have emerged in Britain and South Africa. But the immune response is slightly weaker against the South African variant, so the company is developing a new form of vaccine that could be used as a booster shot against this virus.
The new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Rochelle Walensky, predicted that the vaccine supply would not increase until the end of March. Federal health officials and business executives have said it would be impossible to increase the immediate supply of vaccines until April due to a lack of manufacturing capacity. But a third vaccine maker, Johnson & Johnson, is set to release its clinical trial results soon; if approved, this vaccine would also help support production.
Mr Biden’s travel ban will take effect on Saturday and will apply to non-U.S. Citizens who have spent time in South Africa in the past 14 days. The new policy will not affect U.S. citizens or permanent residents, officials said.
On his last full day in office, President Donald J. Trump attempted to lift the Covid-19 travel ban from Britain, Ireland, 26 countries in Europe and Brazil , claiming that this was no longer necessary. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Monday that the ban would remain in place.
“With the pandemic worsening and more contagious variants spreading, now is not the time to lift restrictions on international travel,” she said.
Ms Psaki also said the Biden administration intended to hold regular public health briefings three times a week, starting Wednesday.
The first confirmed case of the Brazilian variant in the United States has been identified in Minnesota, the state health department said on Monday. It was found in a resident of Minnesota who had recently visited Brazil.
The variant that is now spreading in South Africa does not seem to have reached the United States yet. More than two dozen countries have now reported cases of the variant.
In addition to travel bans, Mr Biden issued an executive order last week requiring all international travelers to show negative coronavirus tests before traveling to the United States. The move extended a CDC requirement for testing that was released by the Trump administration but was due to expire on Tuesday.