(WXYZ) — Starting on Monday, non-US citizens can't travel from South Africa and seven other African nations due to the spread of a new COVID-19 variant, Omicron.
This means people have less than 72 hours to leave specific countries if they have plans to come to the states.
Time is ticking for many including Northern Michigan University student, Mbongeni Maphosa.
“As of now I should make it before Monday I don’t know but with all that is going on. Who knows what can happen," said Maphosa.
This is not the Thanksgiving he had in mind when he got on a plane last Friday to Zimbabwe.
“I figured Thanksgiving weekend would be the perfect time to visit the family," he adds.
Unfortunately, he was wrong. He's now figuring out how to make it back to Marquette, Michigan before the U.S. travel ban goes into effect.
President Joe Biden says the travel ban is a precautionary measure.
“We don't know a lot about the variant except that it's of great concern and it's spreading rapidly," said President Biden.
Dr. Matthew Sims with Beaumont Health says the Omicron variant is taking over South Africa.
“About 100 confirmed cases of it in South Africa," said Dr. Sims.
He says the concern is how contagious this variant appears.
“All the viruses that they have sequenced in the last week or so have been this new variant as opposed to Delta," he explains.
Currently, the United States is suspending travel from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi in addition to South Africa.
“It has been found in travelers from those areas and other countries," said Dr. Sims.
He says there aren't any cases reported in the U.S. "We are not aware of any cases but that could change in any minute, unfortunately," adds Dr. Sims.
Maposah is hoping he can get on the next flight out of Zimbabwe and make it back before Monday.
“I just don’t know and that’s the scary part," he adds.
For a second year in a row, some international students heading to southern Africa may not make it home for the holidays."
Maposah says, “I have several friends who never got to go home during covid and were excited to come home this December.”
As the holiday travel season continues, Dr. Sims says if you don’t have to fly, don't. He says this virus spreads quickly and the airport and planes are some of the fastest places for a virus to spread.
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