The United States on Monday implemented a ban on the entry of foreign travelers from eight countries in southern Africa amid growing concerns over a new variant of the coronavirus that was initially detected in South Africa.
President Joe Biden asked the nation not to panic over the new Omicron variant, noting that existing COVID-19 vaccines are believed to provide "at least some protection" against it, while encouraging people to get vaccinated or receive a booster shot if fully vaccinated more than six months ago.
"We do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed. But so that we are prepared...my team is already working with officials at Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for vaccines, or boosters, if needed," he said, referring to U.S. companies that are providing existing vaccines.
Under the latest travel restriction, visitors will be prohibited from entering the United States if they have been in South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia or Zimbabwe in the past 14 days.
U.S. citizens and lawful U.S. permanent residents as well as other individuals who meet specified exceptions will be allowed entry.
The move comes as the World Health Organization on Friday designated the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus a "variant of concern."
Biden said he plans to come up with a detailed strategy to fight the pandemic this winter with further vaccination efforts while avoiding an economic shutdown. About 40 percent of the country's total population has yet to be fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The president also called on other countries to follow the United States and step up efforts to provide vaccines to people around the world lacking access to the shots, so as to prevent virulent virus mutations.