Health officials in the United States were consulting with South African scientists Friday morning, according to a person familiar with the calls, but it was unclear whether the Biden administration would impose travel restrictions.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s top medical adviser on the coronavirus, told CNN that the new variant appeared to be spreading rapidly, but that the United States must find out whether existing vaccines are effective against it before considering a travel ban.
“Right now, we’re getting the material together with our South African colleagues to get a situation where you could actually directly test it,” Dr. Fauci said. “So right now, you’re talking about sort of like a red flag that this might be an issue — but we don’t know.”
Even with travel restrictions, the new variant will inevitably reach the United States, said Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota who advised Mr. Biden during his transition.
“We have demonstrated time and time again that if the variant shows up anywhere in the world, you can pretty much count on it being everywhere in the world,” Dr. Osterholm said.
President Donald J. Trump issued his first travel restrictions related to the virus in January 2020, one day after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global health emergency. Mr. Trump repeatedly claimed that those measures impeded the virus’s spread in the United States. But a New York Times analysis of flight data found that at least 430,000 people had arrived in the United States on direct flights from China by April 2020, including nearly 40,000 in the two months after Mr. Trump imposed the restrictions.