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US officials are consulting with South African scientists about the variant.

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Health officials in the United States met 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 chief medical adviser on the coronavirus, told CNN that the new variant appeared to be spreading quickly, but the United States needs to find out whether existing vaccines against it are effective before considering a travel ban.

“Right now we’re bringing the material together with our South African colleagues to get a situation where you can really test it right away,” said Dr. Fauci. “So right now you’re talking about kind of a red flag that this could be a problem — 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’ve shown time and time again that if the variant appears anywhere in the world, you can count on it being everywhere in the world,” said Dr. Osterholm.

President Donald J. Trump issued his first travel restrictions related to the virus in January 2020, a day after the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global health emergency. Mr Trump repeatedly claimed those measures hindered the spread of the virus in the United States. But an analysis of flight data by the New York Times found that by April 2020, at least 430,000 people had arrived in the United States on direct flights from China, including nearly 40,000 in the two months after Mr. Trump imposed the restrictions.

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