The White House Just Reinstated This Major COVID Restriction

The measure is being reintroduced to curb the spread of highly contagious new strains of the virus.

The past few months of the pandemic have posed a new set of challenges, as highly contagious strains of the novel coronavirus have been discovered. The new administration, which took over on Jan. 20, has made some changes in an attempt to curb the spread, even recommending a revival of some of the tactics used in the earliest days of the pandemic. Now, it appears that President Joe Biden is bringing back a previous COVID restriction by enacting travel bans for non-citizens arriving from certain countries—with some new places added to the list as well. Read on to see which nations are affected by the new policy, and for more on Biden's changes, check out The White House Is Now Mandating Masks in These 5 Places.

South Africa is the newest addition to the travel ban list.

Portrait of a male traveler wearing a face mask at the airport and looking at the flight schedule
andresr / iStock

According to White House officials, Biden has issued an executive order reviving entry bans for travelers arriving from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil, and a list of 26 European countries that currently allow open travel into their borders. The recent announcement also added an additional ban on travelers who have been to South Africa in the past 14 days, not including U.S. citizens or permanent residents, Reuters first reported. The new restrictions come on the heels of the fast-spreading U.K. variant, which is now in 22 U.S. states, and the South African and Brazilian variants, which are also causing concern but have not yet been discovered in the U.S. The travel ban goes into effect on Saturday, Jan. 30.

"We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa," Anne Schuchat, MD, the CDC's principal deputy director, told Reuters on Jan. 24. Schuchat said that the agency 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." And for more on the newest strain causing concern, check out Moderna's Chief Medical Officer Just Gave This Upsetting Update.

Major travel restrictions were about to be lifted.

group walking with serious face expression at railway station - New normal travel concept with young people covered by protective mask - Focus on blond girl with hat

The move to expand travel restrictions comes barely a week after former President Donald Trump had ordered existing travel restrictions in place on Brazil, the U.K., and Europe to be lifted on Jan. 26. But with cases still surging and the new variants threatening to worsen the situation, officials in the new administration have decided to backpedal on opening the borders.

"With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel," now White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a tweet on Jan. 18 before Biden took office. "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." And for more on big changes to be aware of, check out The CDC Is Requiring You to Do This Starting Tuesday.

Other travel restrictions are coming into effect.

The glove-covered hands of doctor, nurse, or scientist writing with a pen on a vial of a covid test, confirming a negative result
Serhii Sobolevskyi / iStock

News of the revived and additional travel restrictions is coming on the heels of another new travel mandate. Starting Jan. 26, all air travelers entering the United States from abroad are required to test negative for COVID-19 within three days prior to their flight or prove they've recovered from the virus. The order, which was announced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Jan. 12, requires airlines to confirm the test results and to deny boarding to anyone who fails to provide documentation.

"Testing does not eliminate all risk," then-CDC Director Robert Redfield, MD, said in a press release, "but when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations." And for more from Redfield, check out We Should Be Closing These Places Now, Former CDC Director Says.

Officials hope to prevent the new strains from taking over.

Young woman wearing mask to protect herself from virus

On Jan. 15, the CDC revealed that the more transmissible U.K. strain could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March. But officials remain concerned that the South African variant may be even more of a problem. It's more than just highly contagious; it may also render natural immunity and current vaccines less effective. Early research out of South Africa found that for half of the patients in a small study, their antibodies were unable to protect them from reinfection from the new strain of the virus.

Anthony Fauci, MD, told reporters on Jan. 21 that "we likely will be seeing is a diminution—more South Africa than U.K. … in what would be the efficacy of the vaccine-induced antibodies." However, he clarified that "that does not mean that the vaccines will not be effective."

According to Fauci, "if you have a vaccine, like the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccine, that can suppress the virus at a dilution, let's say, of 1 to 1,000, and the mutant influences it by bringing it down to maybe 1 to 800, or something like that, you're still well above the line of not being effective. So there's that 'cushion' that even though it's diminished somewhat, it still is effective." And for more on how you can keep yourself safe, check out Dr. Fauci Just Said You Should Be Wearing This Kind of Mask Now.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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