Travel restrictions return in America

Bella Lee, Staff writer

It has officially been two years since the existence of COVID-19 was first noted.

The world is far from defeating this virus, with nearly 265 million cases and over 5 million deaths worldwide as of this writing.

Unfortunately, a pandemic would not be a pandemic without yet another variant, which is what we are facing right now.

The Delta variant was first detected in India in late 2020 and named in May 2021. The Lambda variant was first detected in Peru in August 2020 and named in June 2021.

Now we are faced with the Omicron variant, first detected in South Africa and, like the others, spreading like wildfire.

The main concern with the Omicron variant is that it is more resistant to the vaccine.

As more Americans are receiving their booster shots to combat the Delta variant, the threat of the Omicron variant leaves many wondering if we will need yet another booster soon.

However, the side effects of the Omicron variant are not as aggressive, so those who are affected by the variant are less likely to die from it.

The new variant has already made landfall in the United States, with the first reported case being in California and reports of cases being found in Maryland and Pennsylvania just a few days ago.

In an attempt to mitigate the spread of the Omicron variant, the United States has imposed a travel ban from 8 African countries that are seeing a sharp rise in cases.

Besides South Africa, travelers from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will be barred entry into the United States.

President Joe Biden made this announcement on Thanksgiving weekend, saying, “As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries.”

United Airlines stopped their nonstop flights to and from South Africa on Dec. 1, and more airlines, such as Delta Airlines, which also have nonstop flights to and from the area, are slated to follow.

Sadly, this comes not even a month after the United States, on Nov. 8 lifted travel restrictions from most countries, including South Africa, China, much of Europe, India, Brazil, Ireland, Britain and Iran.

In addition to the travel restrictions, all inbound international travelers are now required to be tested for COVID-19 within one day of returning to the U.S. This new testing mandate is required for all fliers regardless of vaccination status.

There is no quarantine period for those reentering the U.S., but Biden has issued a federal mandate of mask-wearing while in airports and on planes.

In the wake of the Omicron variant, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa announced that he considered making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for certain places and activities.

Despite a sufficient number of vaccines, only a quarter of South Africans are fully vaccinated due to problems getting the vaccine out to rural areas as well as vaccine hesitancy and apathy.

“We have… been undertaking engagements with social partners and other stakeholders on introducing measures that make vaccination a condition for access to workplaces, public events, public transport and public establishments,” Ramaphosa said in an address to the nation.

If the country does not consider the option of a vaccine mandate, it will “continue to be vulnerable to new variants and will continue to suffer new waves of infection,” he said, adding that vulnerable people might also be offered booster shots.

Currently, only a handful of North American and European countries have access to booster shots, so there is hope that other countries, especially third-world ones, will gain access to them soon as production for the booster shots keeps increasing.

If you do not want to learn the entire Greek alphabet this way, get vaccinated or get the booster shot as soon as possible.

To keep everyone safe, be sure to continue to follow the CDC guidelines and stay up-to-date with the latest news surrounding COVID-19.