The U.S. State Department has updated travel advisories for several countries on Monday, including South Africa and seven of its neighbors over concerns of the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.
South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Eswatini, Botswana were all put under a Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory, following President Biden’s announcement of a travel ban on flights originating in those same countries.
According to the U.S. State Department, a Level 4 travel advisory is the highest advisory level issued and says there is a "greater likelihood of life-threatening risks."
South Africa has experienced a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections, and the health agency says this is because of the omicron variant. According to South African health officials, fewer than 100 cases of the new variant have been confirmed, and those that have been are largely among young people who have the lowest vaccination rate in the country.
The strain has also been found in Canada (the first two cases were reported in Ottawa over the weekend), Germany, Israel, the U.K., and more. The United States has not yet reported a case linked to the variant, however the expectation, according to public health officials including Dr. Anthony Fauci, is that the variant is already in the U.S., and reports of infections will break soon. More infections are expected to be reported as more countries start testing for the variant and it continues to spread, which is expected to happen quickly according to South Africa's Center for Epidemic Response & Innovation.
The U.S. State Department also issued Level 4 warnings on Nov. 22 for travel to Germany and Denmark in the wake of record COVID surges there.
Aruba, Curacao, and Israel were all bumped up to Level 3: Reconsider Travel.