More than a month after the appearance of the Omicron variant in southern Africa, the United States is reopening its borders. Travel restrictions on eight African countries, which were imposed in late November in an attempt to slow the spread of this new variant, will be lifted from December 31, Twitter reported on Friday (December 24th). a White House spokesperson.
People from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi are currently prohibited from arriving on American soil, a decision that was announced on November 26. “By excess of precaution”, said the White House. The decision came after US President Joe Biden had just reopened borders to travelers from around the world in early November, on condition that they are vaccinated against Covid-19, after twenty months of restrictions.
The Omicron variant widely present in the United States
The US executive assures Friday, in a statement sent by a senior White House official, that “Two essential reasons” decided to lift the restrictions. First, the observation that “Current vaccines effectively protect against a severe form [du Covid-19] related to Omicron, especially after a booster dose ”. Then the fact that “International travelers from these countries will not have a significant impact on the number of cases in the United States”, now that the Omicron variant is widely present in the country.
It accounted for 73.2% of new Covid-19 infections during the week ended December 18, compared to only 12.6% last week, according to data from US health authorities. It even represents up to 96.3% of new cases in three states in the northwest of the United States (Oregon, Washington and Idaho).
While many Americans will be traveling across the country this holiday season, Mr Biden warned those who are not fully vaccinated a few days ago, saying they had “Good reasons to be worried” and that he was their “Patriotic duty” to get vaccinated. “Those who have decided not to get the vaccine are responsible for their own choices, but those choices are fueled by misinformation on television and on social media.”, he also regretted, during a speech on December 21.
“We are no longer in March 2020. We are ready”, he assured, citing “Three big differences” with the start of the pandemic: first of all vaccines, but also the abundance of personal protective equipment for caregivers having to deal with the influx of unvaccinated in hospitals and finally the accumulated knowledge about this virus .
Over two thousand canceled flights worldwide
Airlines have had to cancel more than two thousand flights worldwide, nearly a quarter of which are in the United States. According to the site Flightaware, there were already at 4:40 p.m. Friday at least 2,116 flight cancellations, of which 499 are trips related to the United States, whether international or internal. As of Thursday, 2,231 flights had been canceled, according to the same source.
Questioned by Agence France-Presse, many companies mentioned the new wave of the pandemic, which particularly affects crews, as one of the main causes linked to these cancellations.
According to Flightaware, United Airlines had to cancel more than one hundred and seventy flights on Friday, or 9% of those that were scheduled. “The peak of Omicron cases across the country this week has had a direct impact on our crews and the people who run our operations.”, explained the company, which assured to strive to find solutions to remove the affected passengers.
Delta Air Lines also canceled one hundred and forty-five flights, according to Flightaware, citing both Omicron and, occasionally, adverse weather conditions. “The Delta teams have exhausted all options and resources” before coming to these cancellations, argues the airline.
More than ten Alaska Airlines flights, which employees said “Have been potentially exposed to the virus” and having had to self-isolate in quarantine, were also canceled.
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Omicron variant: the United States will reopen its borders to travelers from eight African countries on December 31