The US CDC says a more transmissible COVID-19 variant first discovered in the UK has been found in 10 states.
US President-elect Joe Biden’s spokeswoman quickly dismissed Donald Trump’s announcement on Monday that a COVID-19 ban on travellers arriving from much of Europe and Brazil would be lifted next week, stressing the incoming administration was listening to medical advice.
The duelling statements underline the fractious transition of power just 48 hours ahead of Biden’s inauguration in Washington, DC.
“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26,” Jen Psaki, Biden’s press secretary, tweeted on Monday.
“In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
“With the pandemic worsening and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she added.
Trump signed the order lifting the restrictions he imposed in mid-March last year after securing support from coronavirus task force members and public health officials.
Until Biden acts, Trump’s order ends restrictions the same day that new rules requiring a negative COVID-19 test take effect for all international visitors to the US.
The restrictions barred the entry of nearly all non-US citizens who had spent time in Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the 26 countries of the Schengen area in Europe that allow travel across open borders during the previous 14 days.
Since then new variants of the virus have emerged, including one in Brazil and one in the UK, that are significantly more infectious.
Trump has for months refused to accept the outcome of the November 3 election and denied Biden’s team access to funds and resources. Breaking with tradition, he has also not met Biden.
Trump is also set to become the first outgoing president in 152 years not to attend his successor’s inauguration ceremony.
The US has recorded more than 24 million cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began and has the world’s highest death toll for the virus, with nearly 400,000 people dead.