US President Joe Biden is set to restrict travel from South Africa and seven other African countries starting Monday as a new coronavirus variant has emerged, according to media reports.

The Biden administration will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi, acting on advice from Dr Anthony Fauci and the CDC.  

Also Read | Explained: What is this new COVID variant in South Africa?

Biden was briefed on Friday on the new coronavirus variant circulating in southern Africa, according to CNN reports.

The White House did not give details except to say the restrictions do not apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents. As with all international travellers, they must still test negative prior to travel.

Following the announcement, Biden tweeted: “The @WHO has identified a new COVID variant which is spreading through Southern Africa. As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries.”

Furthermore, he asked “those not yet fully vaccinated” to get the vaccine and urged other countries to match the United States’ “speed and generosity” in donating vaccines to countries in need. 

Meanwhile, earlier in the day, the World Health Organization (WHO) assigned the Greek letter “Omicron” to the new coronavirus detected in South Africa and identified it as a “variant of concern”. The strain was initially identified as B.1.159

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the UN-backed health organisation said in a statement issued on Friday adding that preliminary evidence suggests “an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs (variants of concern)”. 

The new variant is said to be heavily mutative in character and is feared to have triggered an uptick in COVID-19 cases in South Africa’s Gauteng province. It was in this heavily-populated region where the virus was first detected.