US announces travel restrictions over new Covid-19 variant

By Fernando Alfonso III and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT) November 27, 2021
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1:12 p.m. ET, November 27, 2021

UK prime minister announces "targeted" measures to combat Omicron Covid-19 variant

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference on November 27, in London.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference on November 27, in London. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the UK must take "targeted and proportionate measures now" amid concerns over the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

"I must stress this: As always, with a new variant, there are many things we just cannot know at this early stage. Our scientists are learning more hour by hour. It does appear that Omicron spreads very rapidly and can be spread between people who are double vaccinated. There is also a very extensive mutation, which means it diverges quite significantly from previous configurations of the virus, and as a result, it might at least in part reduce the protection of our vaccines over time," Johnson said in a press conference.

Two cases of the variant have been detected in the UK so far.

Johnson also announced additional measures:

"We're not going to stop people traveling. But we will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and to self-isolate until they have a negative result," Johnson said. "...In addition to the measures we're already taking to locate those who have been in countries of concern over the last 10 days, we will require all contacts of those who test positive with a suspected case of Omicron to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of your vaccination status."

The prime minister said his country will also "boost the booster campaign" in an effort to get as many people possible their vaccine booster shot.

“We don't yet exactly know how effective our vaccines will be against Omicron, but we have good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection. And if you're boosted, your response is likely to be stronger. So it's more vital than ever that people get their jabs and we get those boosters into arms as fast as possible,” Johnson said.

Johnson said rules on face coverings in stores and on public transportation will be "tightening up." 

The new measures will be reviewed in three weeks, he said.

Johnson expressed his "deep gratitude" to scientists in South Africa for identifying this variant.

Watch Boris Johnson's speech:

12:33 p.m. ET, November 27, 2021

Omicron Covid-19 variant prompts these countries to impose travel restrictions

Travelers queue at a check-in counter at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 27.
Travelers queue at a check-in counter at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 27. (Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images)

The discovery of a new Covid-19 variant first detected in South Africa prompted multiple countries to impose travel restrictions on at least six African nations

The newly identified variant appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of South Africa, and scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion.

Cases have so far been detected in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium. The World Health Organization classified it as a "variant of concern" on Friday. 

These are the countries that have announced restrictions so far:

  • The cascade of closures began late Thursday as the United Kingdom announced it would be temporarily suspending flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
  • Japan has tightened border controls for travelers from the same six countries, bringing in a 10-day quarantine beginning 12 a.m. on Nov. 27. Bahrain and Sri Lanka said it would suspend entry from those countries as well. Brazil said it will close its air borders with the six c
  • Pakistan announced on Saturday that it would be closing its borders to South Africa, Hong Kong, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho and Botswana.ountries too.
  • Fellow EU nations Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Malta have all announced imminent entry bans to all travelers who've entered South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini in the past two weeks. Switzerland has banned all direct flights from the same seven countries as well. Oman will suspend incoming flights from the seven countries beginning Sunday morning.
  • Egypt, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have also announced restrictions on the seven countries.
  • Meanwhile, Germany plans to declare South Africa a "virus variant area" from Friday night, which will mean that airlines may only enter from the country to repatriate German citizens.
  • President Biden announced that the United States will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting Monday as a new coronavirus variant has emerged, administration officials tell CNN. Acting on advice from Dr. Anthony Fauci and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Biden administration will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Officials, who are still learning more about the variant, said the policy was implemented out of an abundance of caution.
  • Canada is taking similar steps as the US, according to its health minister.
  • Greece will allow only essential travel from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Eswatini, Zambia and Malawi, the country's health ministry said Friday. Travelers will have to obtain a special permit from the local Greek embassies and diplomatic missions to travel, the ministry said, adding that on arrival they will be tested and put in quarantine hotels for 10 days, after which they'll be tested again. The new measures take effect Saturday at 6 a.m. local time. Australia is also banning the entry of foreign citizens who have traveled to the nine southern African countries in the previous 14 days.
  • Starting December 1, travelers from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe “will not be allowed to enter Thailand” and will not be permitted to apply for entry.
  • Russia said on Friday it will restrict entry into its country for citizens from nine countries — South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Madagascar, Eswatini, Tanzania — as well as Hong Kong.
  • Turkey issued a travel ban from five African countries — Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe — through land, air, sea and rail border crossings starting Friday night, according to a tweet from Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca.
  • Colombia's President Iván Duque Márquez announced Saturday that all passengers arriving from South Africa will have to go into mandatory quarantine for 15 days.

12:11 p.m. ET, November 27, 2021

Colombian president extends Covid-19 health emergency for a few months

 From CNN's Valentina Di Donato

Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez has extended the Covid-19 health emergency due to "the current global health situation."

Duque also announced during a news conference Saturday that all passengers arriving from South Africa will have to go into mandatory quarantine for 15 days to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The head of state said the vaccination card for those who have had two doses of the vaccine will be required for entering "crowded places" starting from Dec. 14.

The state of emergency will begin on Nov. 30 through Feb. 28 due to the current situation of the global pandemic. Measures are being taken as a precaution against the variant and safeguarding the health workers in Colombia, Duque added.

11:33 a.m. ET, November 27, 2021

Essex County confirms one of the two cases of Omicron variant in UK

From CNN’s Mia Alberti

The local government of the Essex Country Council confirmed Saturday that authorities have identified one case of the Omicron Covid-19 variant in the area. 

The case was confirmed in Brentwood, around 50 miles from London, and is “linked to a single case from Nottingham involving international travel to South Africa,” the council said via Twitter, adding “the individuals who have so far tested positive, as well as all members of their households, are being re-tested and have been told to self-isolate while contact tracing is underway.”

Earlier today: Two cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the United Kingdom, the country’s Secretary of State for Health Sajid Javid said on Saturday.

Javid tweeted that the two cases were linked and that there was a connection with travel to southern Africa.  

10:55 a.m. ET, November 27, 2021

It could be several weeks before US officials know more about Omicron variant

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

US federal health officials are working around the clock to learn more about the concerning new Omicron variant, officials say, but it could be several weeks before more is known about whether the fears of the highly mutated variant are justified.

Officials are working closely with health officials in other countries to learn more about the variant, but at a minimum, it will be several days — and potentially several weeks — before they're able to properly assess whether the variant causes more severe disease or affects vaccine efficacy.

"The process will take some time," one official told CNN Saturday.

Until they know more, officials will continue to push for vaccinations and booster shots. Amid global fears about the variant, they are urging for a measured response.

9:45 a.m. ET, November 27, 2021

Omicron variant is possibly already in the US, Dr. Anthony Fauci says

From CNN’s Keith Allen

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies on Capitol Hill on November 4, in Washington, DC.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies on Capitol Hill on November 4, in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that it is possible that the Omicron Covid-19 variant is already in the United States but has yet to be detected.

“I would not be surprised if it is, we have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you're having travel-related cases they've noted in other places already, when you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is going to go all over,” Fauci told NBC Saturday. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention��on Friday said that to date no known Omicron cases have been identified in the US, and that if the variant emerges, the agency expects that cases would be quickly identified through the nation’s variant surveillance system.

"The issue of blocking travel from a given country is to just give us time to assess it better. That's the reason for doing that. Not any reason to panic, but we want to give it some time to really fill in the blanks of what we don't know right now,” Fauci added.

Although there is “not any reason to panic,” Fauci cautioned that the new variant is to be taken seriously and warrants the newly imposed travel ban against South Africa and seven neighboring countries.

“It may not turn out that way, but you want to be ahead of it. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing,” he told NBC.

 

9:25 a.m. ET, November 27, 2021

2 cases of Omicron variant detected in the UK, health secretary says

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau

Two cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the United Kingdom, the country’s Secretary of State for Health Sajid Javid said on Saturday.

Javid tweeted that the two cases were linked and that there was a connection with travel to southern Africa.

“These individuals are self-isolating with their households while further testing and contact tracing is underway,” he added.

The Health Secretary said targeted testing would be rolled out in the affected areas (of Nottingham and Chelmsford) as well as sequencing of all positive cases.

Javid said Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola would be added to the UK’s travel red list, effective from 4 a.m. Sunday.

“If you have returned from there in the last 10 days you must isolate and get PCR tests,” his tweet said.

A country being on the “red list” means that UK residents, as well as British and Irish nationals arriving home from that red list point of departure, must undergo a 10-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.

8:31 a.m. ET, November 27, 2021

"High probability" the Omicron variant has already arrived in Germany, state minister says

From CNN’s Fred Pleitgen and Nadine Schmidt

The Omicron variant has probably arrived in Germany, a state minister for Hesse said Saturday.

“Several mutations that are typical for Omicron were found last night in a person returning from South Africa,” Kai Klose, the Minister for Social Affairs and Integration for the State of Hesse tweeted. Germany’s largest international airport is located in Frankfurt in Hesse.

“There is a high probability and the person has been placed in home quarantine. The full sequencing has not been completed yet,” Klose added and urged people who recently returned from Southern Africa to avoid contacts and get tested.

Like many other countries, Germany has banned flights from South Africa since the emergence of the highly contagious Omicron variant there. However, the ban only kicked in on Saturday morning, meaning flights arriving before then landed in Germany as scheduled.

8:21 a.m. ET, November 27, 2021

Czech Republic reports first suspected case of Omicron Covid-19 variant

From CNN’s Ivana Kottasova

Health authorities in the Czech Republic are investigating a suspected case of the Omicron variant in a traveler who has recently arrived from Namibia, the Czech National Institute of Public Health said in a statement emailed to CNN Saturday. 

The institute said that that a PCR test indicated the infection could have been caused by the Omicron variant, but added that a full sequencing of the sample needs to be completed in order to confirm this. It said the sequencing work is underway.

If confirmed, it would be the first case of the new and potentially more transmissible variant in the Czech Republic.

The Czech government has also imposed a travel ban on foreign travelers from eight African nations. As of midnight local time Nov. 27, foreign travelers from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique will not be allowed to enter the Czech Republic, according to the government website.

Czech citizens and permanent residents returning to the Czech Republic are allowed to come but will be required to go into isolation for 10 days.