(CNN): President Joe Biden announced Friday the US will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting Monday as a new coronavirus variant has emerged.
Acting on advice from the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, 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.
Biden on Friday night signed the official proclamation restricting the travel of those “physically present” in the countries during the “14-day period preceding their entry, or attempted entry into the United States.”
The proclamation includes a list of those exempted from the new restrictions, including US citizens, lawful permanent residents and noncitizens who are the spouses of citizens or permanent residents.
It says it will remain in effect until terminated by the President and will not apply to any flights scheduled to arrive in the US that depart prior to 12:01 a.m. EST on Monday.
The decision to restrict travel comes as the federal government is still attempting to learn more about the new variant, named Omicron. They need to see more sequencing, but after discussing what they’ve seen so far, officials decided to halt travel from these other countries out of concern about what they don’t yet know.
Biden was briefed Friday on the new coronavirus variant circulating in southern Africa, he said in the announcement.
He told reporters later Friday of the decision: “I’ve decided we’re going to be cautious.”
“We don’t know a lot about the variant except that it is a big concern and seems to spread rapidly, and I spent about a half hour this morning with my Covid team led by Dr. Fauci, so that was the decision we made,” the President said.
Officials said the policy was implemented out of an abundance of caution given the World Health Organization has now identified this as a variant of concern.
“Our scientists and public health officials are working quickly to learn more about this variant,” one official said.