With omicron now by far the dominant COVID variant in the US, authorities apparently don't see much point in continuing to ban travelers from southern Africa, where the variant was first detected last month. The White House confirmed Friday that the ban on non-US citizens who had been in South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, or Malawi in the previous 14 days will be lifted Dec. 31, reports Reuters. The ban was introduced Nov. 29 out of what officials described as an "abundance of caution." The CDC said Monday that the highly infectious variant accounted for an estimated 73% of new infections in the US last week.
White House spokesman Kevin Munoz tweeted Friday that the ban is being lifted on the recommendation of the CDC, the AP reports. "The restrictions gave us time to understand Omicron and we know our existing vaccines work against Omicron, esp boosted," Munoz wrote. The US announced the ban on the same day the World Health Organization designated omicron as a "variant of concern," though South Africa's president slammed travel curbs as discriminatory and ineffective. An administration official tells Reuters that the restrictions were always intended to be temporary and lifting them now "sends a pretty clear signal that there's not going to be a significant penalty" for countries that report new COVID variants. (Cases may have already peaked in South Africa.)