TRENTON — As cases of COVID-19 variants overseas have begun to spread throughout the U.S., Gov. Phil Murphy Wednesday warned residents not to travel to countries reporting increases in the variants.

The most recently reported COVID-19 variants with higher rates of spread have been identified in the Brazil and South Africa.

“Don’t travel to Brazil or South Africa right now,” Gov. Phil Murphy said during a Wednesday briefing broadcast live on YouTube.

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“I couldn’t be clearer about this, frankly don’t travel, but don’t go to those two countries. Please, there should be no travel to or from Brazil or South Africa right now.”

Another variant, B117, has spread through the United Kingdom and has a rising presence in the U.S. According to state health officials, there are 52 cases of the B117 variant in New Jersey.

Since Jan. 26, the Centers for Disease Control has been requiring air passengers arriving from foreign countries to test negative for COVID-19 within three days before being permitted to enter the U.S.

Foreign nationals who have visited the United Kingdom, Brazil, South African, The Republic of Ireland, China, Iran and the European Schengen Area [a 26-country block that does not require internal border checks] are, with some exceptions, not allowed to enter the United States.

The new worries come as cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations over the past month have been trending downward and more vaccine doses are being administered from week to week.

“But for the variant, I think we would be planning a much more fulsome serious of steps to reopen over the next few weeks, but the variants hang over our heads,” Gov. Murphy said Wednesday, adding that he has now taken to wearing two face masks when indoors.

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