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Biden administration restricting travel from southern Africa over COVID variant

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The Biden administration is restricting travel from eight countries in southern Africa over concerns about a new COVID-19 variant circulating in the region, according to senior administration officials. The restrictions on travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi begin Monday.

The restrictions don’t apply to American citizens or lawful permanent residents although those individuals must still test negative prior to traveling.

“I’ve decided we’re going to be cautious,” the president told reporters Friday. “…We don’t know a lot about the variant except it is a great concern, seems to spread rapidly.”

As CBS News correspondent Debora Patta reported, there’s serious concern among experts that the new strain, which was first discovered in South Africa, could set back the fight against the pandemic. South African officials say the variant, which has more mutations than previously detected strains that have emerged around the world, marks a huge “jump in the evolution” of the virus since the global health crisis began two years ago. There is concern it could be more resistant to the current vaccine formulas.

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Senior administration officials said they’re in close contact with public health officials in the region to understand more about the variant, which the World Health Organization has identified as a “variant of concern.” Other countries, including the United Kingdom, have already restricted travel from the region.

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The variant was found in a part of the world with low access to vaccines. Senior administration officials noted the Biden administration has sent 13.3 million vaccine doses to the restricted countries alone, but that’s a fraction of what’s needed, especially considering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses.

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