Monday, March 1, 2021

US won’t relax travel restrictions as Donald Trump had planned

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President Joe Biden will continue to restrict travel to the US from the UK, Ireland and 26 countries in Europe, and will extend the ban to South Africa, to slow transmission of Covid-19, said a White House official familiar with the plan.

The latest ban would prevent most non-US citizens from entry if they have recently been in South Africa, where a new strain of the virus has been identified. It’s unclear how long the restrictions will continue.

The Trump administration on Jan. 18, two days before Biden’s inauguration, announced a plan to wind down restrictions on travelers from a number of countries starting Jan. 26, when arrivals to the US would need to have tested negative for the virus.

At the time, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the incoming administration planned to block the move, saying on Twitter that “this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel.”

“In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Psaki tweeted.

The US is warily viewing new coronavirus strains that have originated in South Africa and Brazil, as well as one recently identified in the UK that’s more transmissible and potentially more harmful.

Reuters first reported the US plan to ban travel from South Africa for most non-US citizens, citing officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Starting Monday, all passengers arriving in the US, including citizens, will be required to get a viral test for the coronavirus within three days of their departure, and to provide written documentation of a negative result.

The CDC, in an order issued on Sunday, eliminated an option for airlines or other aircraft operators with flights from countries that lack testing capacity for Covid-19 to apply for two-week waivers from the order.

“With the U.S. already in surge status, the testing requirement for all air passengers will help slow the spread of the virus as we work to vaccinate the American public,” the CDC said in its order.

The U.K. warned this weekend that coronavirus vaccines may be less effective against new variants of the disease, such as those now being found in South Africa and Brazil, making stricter border controls justified.

Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the US Food and Drug Administration, said Sunday that it’s highly likely the South African variant is already in the country.

“I feel fairly confident that it is here and we’re just not detecting it yet,” Gottlieb said on “Face the Nation Extra” on CBS.

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