US President Joe Biden puts on a protective mask during an executive signing event in Washington. File photo: BLOOMBERG/KEVIN DIETSCH
US President Joe Biden puts on a protective mask during an executive signing event in Washington. File photo: BLOOMBERG/KEVIN DIETSCH

Washington — President Joe Biden will impose a ban on most non-US citizens entering the country who have recently been in SA starting on Saturday in a bid to contain the spread of a new variant of Covid-19, a senior US public health official says.

Biden is also reimposing an entry ban on nearly all non-US travellers who have been in Brazil, the UK, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe that allow travel across open borders.

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

She added 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.”

Former president Donald Trump directed on January 18 those restrictions on Brazil and Europe be lifted effective on Tuesday but Biden’s proclamation will rescind that decision.

Biden, who took office on Wednesday, is taking an aggressive approach to combating the spread of the virus after Trump rejected mandates sought by US health agencies.

Some health officials are concerned that current vaccines may not be effective against the SA variant, which also raises the prospect of reinfection.

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

The SA variant has not yet been found in the US 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.

The SA embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reuters

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