Coronavirus

Coronavirus US: what pandemic travel restrictions will Biden impose?

Much of Europe, Brazil and South Africa will be included in a travel ban expected to come into force Monday curb the spread of new variants of covid-19.

Coronavirus US: what pandemic travel restrictions will Biden impose?
SPENCER PLATT AFP

President Joe Biden has made moves to reinstate a travel ban - lifted by Donald Trump just a week ago - on most non-US citizens entering the country from areas of high risk, including from Brazil and the United Kingdom where new, more transmissible variants of the coronavirus have emerged in recent months.

The ban, expected to come into effect Monday, also encompasses Ireland and 26 countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders. In addition, Biden will extend the restrictions to travellers coming from South Africa.

“We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa,” Dr Anne Schuchat, the principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in an interview with Reuters.

She added CDC was “putting in place this suite of measures to protect Americans and also to reduce the risk of these variants spreading and worsening the current pandemic.”

Joe Biden and covid-19 travel ban: at odds with Trump

Alongside other key policies that mark a concerted effort to differentiate his new administration to Trump’s, reversing his travel ban decision shows a commitment to science and facts that is completely at odds with Trump's leadership.

The same night that then-president Donald Trump lifted travel restrictions across the world, then-incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicated on Twitter that the new administration had very different plans "With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel," Jen Psaki said in a post to the social network.

"On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19."

Covid-19: new strain in South Africa

The South African variant of the coronavirus, also known as the 501Y.V2 variant, is 50% more infectious and has been detected in at least 20 countries. CDC officials told Reuters that they would be open to adding additional countries to the list if needed.

The South African variant has not yet been found in the United States but at least 20 US states have detected a UK variant known as B.1.1.7. Current vaccines appear effective against the UK mutations. 

Are the new covid-19 variant more dangerous?

The short answer is that we don’t know for sure yet. Mutations that make viruses more infectious don’t necessarily make those infected sicker. The information available on the latest strain of covid-19 doesn’t suggest that it results in a more severe disease.

Susan Hopkins, joint medical adviser for NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England, said, “There is currently no evidence that this strain [found in the UK] causes more severe illness, although it is being detected in a wide geography, especially where there are increased cases being detected.”

What are other countries’ travel restrictions towards Americans?

US travellers must have a negative covid-19 test from within 72 hours prior to travel into the United Kingdom or Ireland, and in conjunction with proof of a completed Declaration of Traveller’s Health to enter Brazil. American travellers generally cannot enter countries such as Spain, Germany, France, Italy and Sweden without meeting specific requirements, according to CNN.

Coronavirus crisis in the US

More than 25 million people in the United States have now been confirmed with covid-19, which amounts to about a quarter of the world’s total infections. Deaths owing to the virus recently surpassed 400,000.

Joe Biden’s aggressive policies tackling the coronavirus crisis include an executive order making mask-wearing mandatory in all federal buildings and on interstate transport, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director (CDC) head Rochelle Walensky will sign on Monday.