- The US travel ban on South Africa is not to punish, but to protect Americans, says the Biden administration.
- President Cyril Ramaphosa has slammed the bans imposed by several countries after the Omicron variant was identified in South Africa.
- The Americans imposed the ban not to prevent its spread to them but to delay it, spokesperson Jen Psaki says.
The US travel ban on South Africa is not to punish, but to protect the American people, US President Joe Biden's spokesperson, Jen Psaki, has said.
Last week, South African scientists identified a new Covid-19 variant which has since been named Omicron.
In an apparent panic, several countries enforced travel bans on South Africa and neighbouring countries, despite the new variant already being in other parts of the world and the World Health Organisation (WHO) cautioning against the bans.
The Biden administration implemented a ban on Friday.
On Sunday, in a national address, President Cyril Ramaphosa came out strong against the travel bans.
"These restrictions are unjustified and unfairly discriminate against our country and our southern African sister countries. The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant.
"The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic," Ramaphosa said.
At a White House press briefing on Monday, a journalist told Psaki that Biden insisted the travel ban on South Africa did not punish it and neighbouring countries, but Ramaphosa said it did.
The journalist asked how long the White House envisioned the travel ban would stay in place.
Psaki said, according to a transcript of the briefing, they would continue to assess the ban.She added:
Psaki said it would not prevent the variant from spreading in the US; it would delay it.
"And that delay is going to help us have necessary time to do the research by our health and medical teams, to get more people vaccinated and get more people boosted. And he's always going to err on the side of protecting the American people.
"I would note that the difference between South Africa and European countries is that there are already hundreds if not thousands of cases of the new variant in South Africa and not as many - much - a lower number, at this point - in Europe.
"But we will continue to assess what steps we need to take to protect the American people."
She was also asked if they were imposing any new testing or tracing on Americans or Green Card holders who come from southern African countries once they get to the US.
Psaki said they already have stringent requirements in place - a vaccination requirement and people have to be tested within three days of travelling.
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