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United States to restrict air travel from South Africa after new COVID variant discovered

Posted at 6:29 PM, Nov 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-28 12:38:55-05

WACO, Texas — The city of Waco is still on the downswing for COVID-19 cases after hitting a record high in early September. As cases are dropping locally, a new variant is causing alarm internationally.

"It seems to be spreading at a reasonably rapid rate in the sense of when they do test positive," Director of the National Institute Of Allergy And Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci said. "They're seeing it's a bit more widespread in South Africa than it was originally felt a few days ago."

It's unclear where the omicron variant originated, but experts believe it is causing a concerning spike in Gauteng, South Africa.

The country was seeing an average of 200 cases per day for weeks but, according to the Associated Press, that number was up to 2,465 on Thursday. Now experts are working to see if the new variant is to blame.

"We're finding out more about it and it's something in real-time we're learning more and more about," Dr. Fauci said.

Several countries in Europe were the first to announce a travel ban out of South Africa. The United States followed suit a few hours later.

This afternoon President Joe Biden tweeted "Until we have more information, I am ordering air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries."

With such limited knowledge about this new variant, it's expected to take a few weeks to learn how effective the vaccines will be against it. Local health experts told 25 News they are keeping an eye on that data.

"We definitely have to pay attention to how this is going to play out in terms of vaccine resistance, as that would obviously be something really serious," Texas A&M Population Health Expert Dr. Jason McKnight said.

Health officials still encourage getting the vaccine and boosters in the meantime.

"After several months people, particularly the elderly, but across the board in the age group, you have a diminution of protection over several months which was the reason why we're recommending that everyone age 18 years and older who have received the vaccine get the booster," Dr. Fauci said.

If you're not comfortable or unable to get vaccinated, health experts still stress you should wear your mask and keep your distance from those at high risk.