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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.
White House in contact with airlines
A senior Biden administration official said earlier Friday that several steps had to be taken before the restrictions begin on Monday, including the formal US proclamation, Transportation Security Administration directives and coordination with airlines.
“This is a quick timeline but there are things that need to be done beforehand,” the official said.
An airline source told CNN that airline executives and the White House were in touch Friday, prior to the announcement of new travel restrictions.
Another source familiar with the situation said there was a call Friday afternoon with the federal government and the airline industry. The federal government is working on drafting an official directive that will include guidelines for airlines that go into effect just after midnight Monday morning.
The trade group for major US airlines said it has “many unanswered questions” about the forthcoming restrictions. Airlines for America spokesman Carter Yang told CNN the group is communicating with the administration and believes that travel decisions must “be rooted in science.”
“We remain in communication with the US government as specifics remain unknown at this time and there are many unanswered questions,” Yang said. “Amid this rapidly evolving situation, it is critical that US government decisions regarding international travel restrictions and requirements be rooted in science.”
South Africa’s health minister announced Thursday the discovery of the variant, which appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of the country.
The travel restrictions will buy the US federal government more time to investigate the new variant, officials say — but not much.
Inside the government, it is seen as inevitable that the new variant will appear in the US at some point, but the new restrictions should give federal health agencies and their global counterparts more time to learn about the variant, including the severity of the disease it causes. Officials do not believe, based on current thinking, that the variant is in the US yet.
Officials acted quickly to implement new restrictions. While the emergency of the variant had been flagged in the last several weeks, it was only in recent days that they learned how serious it was.
US officials are expected to speak to scientists in South Africa again, potentially on Sunday.
Currently, “there’s no indication” that the new variant is in the United States right now — and US scientists are working closely with colleagues in South Africa to learn more about the emerging variant, Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s Brianna Keilar before the travel restrictions were announced Friday.
“Right now, we’re getting the material together with our South African colleagues to get a situation where you could actually directly test it. So, right now you’re talking about sort of like a red flag that this might be an issue — but we don’t know,” he said.
“You want to find out if in fact it does evade the vaccines that we’re doing,” Fauci said when asked about potential travel restrictions. “You’re prepared to do everything you need to do to protect the American public, but you want to make sure there’s a basis for doing that.”
Several other countries — including the United Kingdom — have banned flights from South Africa and surrounding African countries in response to the emergence of the variant.
The travel restrictions do not apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents. As with all international travelers, they must still test negative prior to travel.
This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.
CNN’s Allie Malloy, Jeff Zeleny, Gregory Wallace and Pete Muntean contributed to this report.
“Because of this, it is now safe for fully vaccinated residents and visitors to resume nonessential travel to and within the state of Hawaii,” he said. “Beginning November 1, we want to invite and encourage fully vaccinated visitors and residents to travel for business or leisure, trans-Pacific and inter-island.”
NBA players who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 won’t be able to travel to Toronto to play in games against the Raptors beginning on Jan. 15, as Canada’s government is set to end vaccine exemption for athletes. Minister of public safety Marco Mendicino made this announcement on Friday. Here are some details, via CBC News:
Unvaccinated professional and amateur athletes will no longer be able to travel to Canada as of January 15, minister of public safety Marco Mendicino said on Friday. Currently, NBA and NHL players who have yet to receive one of Canada’s approved COVID-19 vaccines are able to enter the country under a national interest exemption. But Mendicino said that is changing due to the wide availability of vaccines.
“As of January 15th, there will no longer be an exemption in place for professional and amateur athletes,” he said… Those who remain unvaccinated will soon be unable to play games in Toronto against the Raptors or in any of the seven Canadian NHL teams’ home arenas.
It is unclear whether unvaccinated Canadian athletes who play for American teams would be able re-enter the country with their teams. However, beginning November 30, vaccination will be required for travel within and out of Canada.
Luckily, this change shouldn’t be an issue for too many NBA players, as around 95 percent of the league’s players are reportedly vaccinated. Brooklyn Nets star guard Kyrie Irving is the most well-known player to refuse the vaccine, but he hasn’t been playing in games for the Nets this season, so the change won’t impact him anyway.
The NBA isn’t enforcing any sort of a vaccine mandate for its players, but the league has strongly encouraged all players to get inoculated. Earlier this month, the league encouraged all players and coaches to get a booster shot in order to try to continue to curb any potential outbreaks. Several players from across the league’s landscape have had to miss time due to COVID-19 this season, but no games have been postponed due to extreme team-wide outbreaks, which is an improvement over last season.
Heroic “round the clock” efforts to restore key transportation and food supply lifelines in British Columbia are starting to bear fruit, the province’s transportation and agriculture ministers said on Saturday.
Highway 99 reopened around noon PT with two lanes north of Pemberton to small vehicles only, with authorities still asking motorists to only travel for essential reasons such as returning to a primary home address.
“This will provide a second connection from Lower Mainland to the north, through Pemberton and Lillooet,” Rob Fleming, B.C.’s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, said at a press conference Saturday morning. “It is designed for smaller vehicles because of the terrain — nothing larger than a cube truck will be allowed on the highway.”
According to a provincial government release Saturday, “checkpoints will be in place and travel restrictions will be enforced,” and only vehicles weighing less than 14.5 tonnes will be allowed. Heavier trucks should take Highway 3, which reopened Friday, the release said.
“I can’t stress enough that keeping this corridor open is vital to British Columbians where goods are short,” Fleming said, referring to Highway 3. “People have been up day-and-night working around the clock… at an accelerated, exhausting pace.”
On Vancouver Island, the Malahat highway reopened Friday to two-way traffic after being shuttered by torrents of floodwater last week.
Bodies of 3 more people found at mudslide
Highway 99 was severed when a major mudslide last Sunday swept vehicles off the road after a massive and devastating rainstorm.
The mudslide near Lillooet killed at least four people, with RCMP confirming Saturday they recovered the remains of three men near the scene. RCMP said another remains missing.
“It is very sad, tragic news for the province that the RCMP have confirmed the deaths of other individuals in the slide events,” Fleming said. “Our thoughts are with their loved ones at this time.”
Asked about Friday’s new provincial essential travel restrictions on affected routes — rules which also limit motorists to 30 litres of fuel per fill-up until Dec. 1 — Fleming said the province is still limiting travel to “essential” purposes such as commercial deliveries, getting stranded travelers and evacuees to safety, and recovery efforts.
“We want people to travel for essential purposes, which is reconnecting with their primary addresses,” Fleming said.
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But while many images have circulated of empty grocery store shelves in various regions of B.C., including areas far from flooding, provincial Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said there are currently no food shortages — just “pinch points in the supply chain” that are being gradually restored with new supply.
Thousands of livestock are reported to have died in flooding of the Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford as cold waters rose and feed ran out. Volunteers and farmers have spent much of the week attempting to rescue as many animals as possible from the floodwaters.
Some grocery stores have put in place limits on how much milk, eggs and meat shoppers can buy.
Popham said milk pick-ups have resumed in parts of the Fraser Valley, and four tonnes of hog feed was airdropped by B.C.’s wildfire service to affected pig farms within the last day, she said.
She said the province has secured roughly “five to six” days worth of livestock feed for the region’s farms thanks to relief offered by Alberta, Saskatchewan and Washington State.
“I think everyone understands it’s all hands on deck,” Popham told reporters on Saturday. “Those shelves will be restocked, we do not have a food shortage. We expect to see that level out in the next little while.
“To the farmers now — who have had no sleep and are going through an incredibly difficult, emotional time — thank you for all of your efforts. All of our hearts are with you.”
Line-ups for gas reported on Friday
Meanwhile, many gas stations in the Lower Mainland saw line-ups for fuel after the public safety minister announced a 30-litre limit on fuel-ups Friday night. But Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said Saturday the move is just “temporary” until Dec. 1 to ensure enough is available for essential purposes and supply chains.
Long lines of vehicles were seen snaking out of gas stations on Friday evening after British Columbia officials announced fuel restrictions for non-essential travellers in areas of the province affected by heavy rains and damaging floods.
It comes after supply lines, including major highways and rail, were washed out or flooded by record rainfall that started last weekend.
Farnworth said police will not be enforcing the provincial order, noting that the government is relying on residents to “do the right thing” until the order lifts.
He pointed out there were already long lines for gas even before he announced new restrictions.
“We have seen gas lines form for a number of days now,” Farnworth said. “We have enough gas for everyone who needs it.
American nationals who haven’t been vaccinated yet, as well as those who haven’t recently recovered from the Coronavirus, can travel to Germany under facilitated rules starting from the upcoming Sunday, November 14.
Among others, they will be able to skip quarantine and multiple testing for COVID-19.
Such a thing will be possible after the United States has been removed from the high-risk list of Germany, upon a review of the list by the Federal Ministry of Health, the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community.
The decision has been announced by the Robert Koch Institute, which is Germany’s agency for disease prevention and control. The same has, on the other hand, added to the high-risk list the following:
Austria (with the exception of the municipality of Mittelberg and Jungholz and Rißtal in the municipal area of Vomp and Eben am Achensee)
the Czech Republic
Lao People’s Democratic Republic
For Americans, being removed from the high-risk list means that they can now travel to Germany without having to undergo quarantine upon arrival into the country. They will, however, need to get tested for COVID-19 if they have not been vaccinated against the virus, nor recovered from it recently.
“All immigrants – regardless of whether they have been in a high-risk area or virus variant area or not – are obliged to have proof of the absence of an infection with the SARS – CoV -2 coronavirus ( proof of vaccination, test, recovery) upon entry,” the German Ministry of Health explains in its ordinance of November 8, which lays out the new COVID-19 entry rules.
Only children under the age of 12 are exempt from this requirement.
For travellers over 12 who are not vaccinated, the test must be taken within the last 72 hours before they arrive in Germany, if it is a PCR test, whereas antigen tests should be taken within the prior 24 hours only.
Previously, American travellers who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19, as well as those who haven’t recovered from the virus recently, had to go through several more entry procedures, including registration and quarantine.
The quarantine obligation for travellers from high-risk rea lasts ten days, though it can be ended prematurely on the fifth day of isolation.