WASHINGTON, Nov 27 (Reuters) - The U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) and State Department on Saturday
advised against travel to eight southern African countries after
the White House announced new travel restrictions in response to
a new COVID-19 variant.
The CDC raised its travel recommendation to "Level Four:
Very High" for South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique,
Malawi, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana while the State
Department issued parallel "Do Not Travel" advisories Saturday.
On Monday, the CDC had lowered its COVID-19 travel advisory for
South Africa to "Level 1: Low" from "Level 3: High"
Of the eight countries, only Botswana was previously listed
as "Level 4."
Omicron, dubbed a "variant of concern" by the World Health
Organization, is potentially more contagious than previous
variants of the disease, although experts do not know yet if it
will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other
strains. It could take weeks for scientists to fully understand
the variant's mutations and whether existing vaccines and
treatments are effective against it.
The discovery of the variant has sparked global concern, a
wave of travel bans or curbs and a sell-off on financial markets
on Friday as investors worried that Omicron could stall a global
recovery from the nearly two-year pandemic.
The new variant prompted the White House to announce Friday
it would bar nearly all foreign nationals who have been in any
of eight countries within the last 14 days from flying to the
United States effective Monday at 12:01 a.m. ET (0500 GMT).
Travelers on flights that depart before that time will be
allowed to land in the United States. But foreign nationals must
be vaccinated and have tested negative within three days.
Britain detected two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus
variant on Saturday, even as Australia and other countries
joined nations imposing restrictions on travel from southern
Africa in an effort to stop its spread.
The variant was first discovered in South Africa and had
also since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong
A U.S. official told Reuters Friday the Biden administration
could also add other countries to the travel curb list if the
variant spreads. The United States only lifted travel
restrictions on South Africa and 32 other countries on Nov. 8.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Diane Craft)