The United States will issue a travel ban from South Africa and seven other African nations by non-US citizens beginning Monday due to the emerging COVID-19 variant, omicron.

President Joe Biden said the move is a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of the new dangerous coronavirus variant.

  • “For the world community: this news is a reminder that this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations,” Biden tweeted. “The U.S. has already donated more vaccines to other countries than every other country combined. It is time for other countries to match our speed and generosity.”

South Africa warned Thursday of a new coronavirus variant, which prompted fears across the globe about what might happen next in the pandemic.

The World Health Organization said Friday the new COVID-19 variant was a highly transmissible variant of concern. The WHO issued the name “omicron” after the letter in the Greek alphabet, as I wrote for the Deseret News.

The variant — which was originally discovered in Botswana, which had four cases of the B.1.1.529 variant among fully vaccinated people — has been found in Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel, per The Associated Press.

The New York Times reports that the new omicron variant has a “big jump in evolution” compared to other COVID-19 variants.

  • Specifically, it has 30 mutations in the spike protein and 10 mutations in the ACE2 receptor, which helps the virus create an entry point so it cann infect humans.
  • For comparison, the beta variant has three mutations and the delta variant has two, per The New York Times.

Scientists have expressed worry over the variant. One scientist described omicron as “horrific.” Another said it was the worst variant seen yet, per BBC News.

  • “This variant did surprise us, it has a big jump in evolution, many more mutations than we expected, especially after a very severe third wave of Delta,” said Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform, per The New York Times,

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration, said that most of the reported cases included mild symptoms and the variant has not led to a spike in hospitalizations.