The U.S has announced plans to lift the temporary COVID-19-related travel restrictions imposed on eight southern African countries on December 31. The announcement was made in a tweet by White House spokesman Kevin Munoz on Christmas Eve.
The restrictions imposed in late November, affected travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. The restrictions however did not apply to American citizens or lawful permanent residents, although those individuals were still required to test negative prior to traveling.
The policy came under fire from the World Health Organization, which said it would punish countries for reporting their findings while doing little to slow the spread. Omicron continued to spread rapidly through Europe and the U.S., where it now makes up a majority of new cases. Health officials were concerned that the new variant first discovered in South Africa, could set back the fight against the pandemic. Omicron has more mutations than previously detected strains, and there was some fear that it could be more resistant to current vaccines.
Major drug manufacturers say early studies show that at least some of the current treatments for COVID-19 appear to be effective in treating Omicron. Early data from South Africa and the U.K. also suggests patients face a lower risk of hospitalization from Omicron. It is however still unclear if that is because the variant is milder than earlier waves or because more people have some immunity from prior infections.