Omicron variant: US travel group urges White House to ‘revisit’ reinstatement of country-specific entry bans

US has now restricted travelers from South Africa, 7 neighboring countries

An American travel industry group is asking the Biden administration to "revisit the reinstatement of country-specific entry bans in the near term" as the U.S. is tightening its border controls following the emergence of the omicron coronavirus variant. 

The plea from the U.S. Travel Association – which says the pandemic has caused nearly $300 billion in export income losses on American soil since March 2020 – comes as the U.S. is now restricting travel from South Africa and seven neighboring countries. President Biden has called the restrictions a "precautionary measure until we have more information" about the omicron variant. 

"The U.S. Travel Association respectfully urges the Biden administration to revisit the reinstatement of country-specific entry bans in the near term," Tori Emerson Barnes, its executive vice president of public affairs and policy, said in a statement Sunday

 People queue to get on the Air France flight to Paris at OR Tambo's airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Nov. 26.  (AP//Jerome Delay)


"Covid variants are of concern, but closed borders have not prevented their presence in the United States while vaccinations have proven incredibly durable," the statement continued. "That is why America’s travel industry is a vocal proponent of everyone getting a vaccine. With a vaccine and testing requirement in place to enter the U.S. we continue to believe that assessing an individual’s risk and health status is the best way to welcome qualified global travelers into the United States." 

Barnes, in a statement to Fox Business, later said "we were engaged with the White House over the weekend and are encouraged by the President’s comments today that he does not anticipate further restrictions.

"This underscores the need for folks to get vaccinated and get booster shots so that travelers, and the travel industry, can continue to return to normalcy," she added.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Travel Association estimated that "declines in international visitation since the start of the pandemic have already resulted in nearly $300 billion in lost export income (from March 2020-October 2021)" and that the declines "also led to the loss of more than a million American jobs." 

People queue to get vaccinated at a shopping mall, in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Nov. 26. (AP/Denis Farrell)

In 2019, the 79.4 million international visitors who came to the U.S. generated $239 billion in export income and directly supported 1.2 million American jobs, it added. 


On Monday, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the scientific community is still working to understand the potential impact of the "highly mutated omicron variant," according to the Associated Press. 

"We don’t yet know whether omicron is associated with more transmission, more severe disease, more risk of infections, or more risk of evading vaccines," he added.