US President Joe Biden is expected to re-impose a travel ban that Donald Trump lifted just days before his term ended.
The restrictions expected to be reinstated later on Monday would apply to non-US citizens travelling from South Africa and Brazil, which are facing new variants of coronavirus.
Travellers from the UK, Ireland and 26 other European countries are also expected to be banned.
“We are adding South Africa to the restricted list because of the concerning variant present that has already spread beyond South Africa,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, in an interview Sunday.
She added the agency was “putting in place this suite of measures to protect Americans and also to reduce the risk of these variants spreading and worsening the current pandemic.”
Then-President Donald Trump directed on Jan. 18 those restrictions on Brazil and Europe be lifted effective Tuesday but Biden’s proclamation will rescind that decision.
Biden, who took office on Wednesday, is taking an aggressive approach to combating the spread of the virus after Trump rejected mandates sought by U.S. health agencies.
Some health officials are concerned that current vaccines may not be effective against the South Africa variant, which also raises the prospect of re-infection.
The South African variant, also known as the 501Y.V2 variant, is 50% more infectious and has been detected in at least 20 countries. CDC officials told Reuters they would be open to adding additional countries to the list if needed.
The South African variant has not yet been found in the United States but at least 20 U.S. states have detected a UK variant known as B.1.1.7. Current vaccines appear effective against the UK mutations.
Meanwhile, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director (CDC) head Rochelle Walensky will sign a separate order Monday requiring masks on all airplanes, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-share vehicles for all travelers two and older, officials said. The new requirements are set to take effect in the coming days, they said, and masks can be removed for brief periods while eating or drinking.
On Tuesday, new CDC rules take effect requiring all international air travelers 2 and older to present a negative coronavirus test taken within three calendar days of travel or proof of recovery from COVID-19 to enter the United States-Reuters reported.