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Travelers arrive at Miami International Airport ahead of the long holiday week-end of Memorial Day in Miami on May 26, 2021. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

The White House will lift the travel restrictions it imposed on eight African countries last month after the Omicron variant was first reported in South Africa, White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz said on Friday.

Driving the news: The restrictions will end on Dec. 31, according to Munoz. He said the decision to lift travel restrictions was recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • "The restrictions gave us time to understand Omicron and we know our existing vaccines work against Omicron, esp boosted," Munoz said in a tweet.
  • People traveling from the countries will now be subject to the same protocols the U.S. has imposed elsewhere — requiring foreigners be vaccinated and that all travelers get a negative COVID-19 test within a day of their departure.

Flashback: President Biden in late November restricted entry from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi at the recommendation of medical experts and the COVID-19 response team.

  • The restrictions apply to people who were in the countries during the 14-day period before they tried to enter the U.S. It does not apply to American citizens and permanent residents.
  • Reuters first reported on the decision to lift the restrictions.

Between the lines: Officials in South Africa had criticized countries that imposed travel bans on the nation, saying it was being punished, rather than praised, "for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker."

  • The World Health Organization also condemned restrictions, saying they place a "heavy burden on lives and livelihoods."

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February — FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated."
  2. Vaccines: The shifting definition of fully vaccinated — Annual vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO — Team USA 100% vaccinated ahead of Beijing Olympics.
  3. Politics: Virginia school boards sue Gov. Youngkin for lifting mask mandate — Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance — Arizona governor sues Biden administration over funds tied to mandates.
  4. World: Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games — Beijing officials urge "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics — Austria approves vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker
12 mins ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to actually deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine.

Updated 44 mins ago - Economy & Business

S&P 500 on track for worst-ever start to year

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Stocks suffered their steepest drop of the year early Monday, putting the S&P 500 on course for its worst-ever start to a year.

Driving the news: The benchmark S&P 500 dropped for its fifth straight day, with losses nearing 3% in early trading, momentarily putting it on track to fall into a "correction." Some of the steepest losses were recovered in early afternoon trading.