In response to the identification of the omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, several countries around the world have implemented new travel restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the disease. In the Americas region alone, several countries—including Brazil, Canada, Chile, and the United States—have announced new restrictions on the entry of foreign nationals. Other countries, such as Mexico, have insisted that such measures are of little use.
A Range of Travel Restrictions in Response to Omicron Variant
International travel restrictions adopted in response to the identification of the omicron variant widely vary from one country to the next. In the Americas region, some of the notable restrictions include:
Brazil: On November 26, 2021, President Jair Bolsonaro’s chief of staff announced that Brazil would close its borders to entry from six African countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. Entry restrictions are set to begin on November 29, 2021. According to the new restrictions, no flights from these six countries may land in Brazil. Foreign nationals physically present in or passing through these countries within the past 14 days will also be barred from entering Brazil. In addition, Brazilian citizens and permanent residents who are physically present in or passing through these six countries in the fourteen days before embarking for Brazil must quarantine for fourteen days in the city of their final destination.
Canada: On November 26, 2021, the Canadian government announced a new set of measures designed to address the emergence of the omicron variant. Under the new measures, foreign nationals who have been in the Southern Africa region – including South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Namibia – within the last 14 days before arriving in Canada will not be allowed to enter Canada. Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and people with status under the Indian Act, who have been in these countries in the previous 14 days will be subject to enhanced testing, screening, and quarantine measures, regardless of their vaccination status or previous recovery from COVID-19. The measures will be in effect through at least January 31, 2022.
Chile: Effective December 1, 2021, foreign nationals who have been physically present in seven Southern African countries – namely, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique – will be prohibited from entering Chile. Chilean citizens and resident foreign nationals who have been physically present in these seven countries during the previous fourteen days may still enter Chile, subject to additional testing and quarantine requirements. Specifically, such individuals must submit to PCR testing at the port of entry, and must complete a seven-day quarantine, regardless of vaccination status and even if the PCR test comes back negative.
Mexico: To date, Mexico has not adopted any new restrictions on international travel in response to the omicron variant. On November 28, 2021, the country’s deputy health secretary stated that travel bans are of little use and that the responses of other countries have been disproportionate in consideration of what is presently known about the virulence of the omicron variant and its ability to evade the immune system.
United States: On November 26, 2021, the Biden Administration issued a Presidential Proclamation banning the entry into the United States, as immigrants or nonimmigrants, of noncitizens who were physically present within Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe during the past 14-day period. The ban came only 19 days after the U.S. government ended its COVID-19 travel bans worldwide and replaced them with a vaccine mandate for travel to the United States. The Proclamation became effective at 12:01 a.m. Eastern standard time on November 29, 2021. Among the stated exceptions to the travel ban are U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, spouses of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, and any noncitizen whose entry would be in the national interest, as determined by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their designee.