The U.S. is once again imposing travel restrictions to stem the spread of yet another COVID-19 variant. Today, travel restrictions snap into place for noncitizens traveling by air from South Africa and seven other African countries in response to the spread of the newly discovered omicron variant in that region.
This new variant was discovered by South African scientists last week. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified it as a "variant of concern" on Friday.
That same day, President Joe Biden announced his latest round of travel restrictions, which he described as a "precautionary measure" that would give his administration more time to learn about the new variant.
The White House hasn't said when these travel restrictions might be lifted. Biden, in a statement issued Friday, said only that "we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises."
He encouraged people to get vaccinated or, if already vaccinated, a booster shot. The president also urged other countries to lift intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines as a means of boosting the global vaccine supply.
Other countries affected by the travel restrictions include Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.
The new restrictions are already producing chaos. The Washington Post reports on how canceled flights to and from the affected countries are leaving people stuck abroad or forcing them to cancel their plans to visit family.
The Post notes that the U.S. had lifted travel restrictions on 33 countries just a few weeks prior. Biden's latest move is yet another blow for the travel industry and those who had hoped that pandemic-era border controls would be a fading policy.
Dozens of other countries are also imposing restrictions on travel in the face of this new, quickly spreading variant.
Cases of people infected with the omicron variant have been reported in a number of countries, including the Netherlands, Israel, and Australia. On Sunday, Canada reported its first two omicron cases.
There are still many open questions about omicron, including how severe its symptoms are, how transmissible it is, and how well existing vaccines or prior COVID-19 infections protect people against this new variant.
The South African doctor who first noticed the omicron variant has said that all the cases she's seen have been pretty mild, reports CNBC. Disease experts who spoke to The New York Times say that omicron might be more transmissible than even the very infectious delta variant.
Pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Moderna are currently testing whether their existing COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the omicron variant.
Thus far, the WHO has said that it'll take several weeks before we have more clear answers to many of these questions.
Here we go again.
Los Angeles will start enforcing its vaccine passport system today. Beginning earlier this month, the Los Angeles city government has required people looking to patronize restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, and other public venues to show proof of full vaccination.
Starting Monday, businesses that don't check their customers' vaccination status will now be liable for citations and fines. A first failure to enforce the city's vaccine requirements will net a business a warning. A second violation can result in a $1,000 fine. Fines can rise as high as $5,000 for a business with four or more violations.
Los Angeles' vaccine passport system allows for medical and religious exemptions, which individual businesses will be responsible for vetting.
The threat of fines is frustrating some Los Angeles business owners.
"I have to be…the bodyguard for the city," said one restaurateur to the Los Angeles Times. "At the end of the day, we're doing their job. If I don't let people in, I don't have customers and if I don't have customers that means I don't have a business. And the rent, I have to keep paying. The permits, I have to keep paying."
• An episode of The Simpsons that references the Tiananmen Square massacre has been excluded from Disney's recently launched streaming service in Hong Kong.
Disney has been accused of censorship after it dropped from its new streaming service in Hong Kong an episode of 'The Simpsons' that refers to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre https://t.co/PjwtOd3thT pic.twitter.com/rCxPmSq2nA
— Financial Times (@FinancialTimes) November 29, 2021
• Housing shortages at California's universities are forcing some students to live in hotel rooms while they wait for more permanent accommodations. (Living in a windowless box doesn't sound so bad now, does it?)
• Actor Matthew McConaughey announces he will not run for governor of Texas.
• Politico reports that former President Donald Trump is vetting vice presidential candidates for his still-unofficial 2024 presidential campaign.
• Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D–Va.) is calling on Biden to appoint a special supply chain czar to address current shortages. That'll fix the problem.
• The island nation of Barbados throws off the oppressive yoke of monarchy.