DORAL, FL – President Biden announces new travel restrictions after first Omicron case spotted in the U.S. on Wednesday in Northern California. The highly mutated variant was first identified in South Africa where the individual who brought it to the country was traveling from.
Now in the face of this and as the world enters its third year of the pandemic, the federal government created a plan in an effort to fight the virus.
“Our doctors believe tightening testing requirements for pre-departure will help catch more cases, potential cases of people who may be positive and inside the country,” a senior administration official said. “And so now is the right time to do it. And we can implement it very quickly.”
The plan, aimed at people who travel to and within the U.S., requires all in-bound international passengers regardless of vaccination status to test for Covid within 24 hours of departure.
Previously, the U.S. required proof of a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of departure and last month, this rule began applying only to vaccinated travelers, while the unvaccinated ones needed to test negative within one day of departure.
In addition, the Biden administration is also extending its mask requirement, which was originally supposed to expire in January, on all domestic flights and public transportation through March 18.
The new mask mandate applies on buses, trains, planes and transportation hubs such as indoor bus terminals and airports. Those who fail to comply with the regulations will face fines starting at $500, and going up to $3,000 for repeat offenders.
These measures will begin to be enforced as early as next week, senior administration officials told reporters during a press call late Wednesday.
So far, at least 23 countries have identified omicron cases and that number is expected to be higher in the coming days and weeks, the WHO said Wednesday.
“While this new variant is a cause for concern, it is not a cause for panic,” the senior administration official said. “We have the tools we need to confront this variant and keep making progress in our fight against the virus.”
Last week, President Joe Biden ordered precautionary air travel restrictions, which took effect Monday, for South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
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