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US 'looking' at mandating COVID-19 testing for domestic air travel

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 1/27/2021 Valerie Edwards For Dailymail.com and Reuters
Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: MailOnline logo © Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo

The Biden administration is 'actively looking' at expanding mandatory COVID-19 testing to travelers on US domestic flights, a senior CDC official says.

Dr Marty Cetron, director for the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine at CDC, was asked on a call with reporters on Tuesday about whether new domestic travel testing requirements might be employed. 

Cetron said there were 'conversations that are ongoing and looking at what the types and locations of testing might be... We're actively looking at it'.

Airline officials fear such requirements could curtail already weak demand for air travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

President Joe Biden last week directed US agencies to make recommendations to 'impose additional public health measures for domestic travel' and to consider new requirements for people crossing land borders.

Administration officials had said that could include requiring negative COVID-19 tests before flying domestically.  

It comes after Biden reinstated COVID-19 travel restrictions on most non-US travelers from Brazil, Ireland, the United Kingdom and 26 other European countries that allow travel across open borders. He also added South Africa to the list because of concerns of a variant of the virus that has spread beyond that nation. 

a statue of Joe Biden in a suit and tie: The Biden administration is 'actively looking' at expanding mandatory COVID-19 testing to travelers on US domestic flights, a senior Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official said on Tuesday © Provided by Daily Mail The Biden administration is 'actively looking' at expanding mandatory COVID-19 testing to travelers on US domestic flights, a senior Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official said on Tuesday a group of people standing in front of a laptop: On Tuesday, new CDC rules took effect requiring nearly all international air travelers (pictured in California) aged 2 and older to present a negative coronavirus test taken within three calendar days of travel or proof of COVID-19 recovery to enter the US © Provided by Daily Mail On Tuesday, new CDC rules took effect requiring nearly all international air travelers (pictured in California) aged 2 and older to present a negative coronavirus test taken within three calendar days of travel or proof of COVID-19 recovery to enter the US

The South Africa variant has not yet been discovered in the US but other variants that originated in the United Kingdom and Brazil have been detected in several states. 

New CDC rules also took effect this week requiring nearly all international air travelers aged 2 and older to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within three calendar days of travel, or proof of COVID-19 recovery, to enter the US. 

In discussions with airline officials, the CDC has said it is considering requiring domestic testing as well.

'We realize that there's been a dramatic evolution and increase in both testing platforms and testing capacity. I think this is a really important part of our toolkit to combat this pandemic,' Cetron said on the call with reporters. 

A handful of states, including New York, Pennsylvania, Maine, Massachusetts and Maryland, require out-of-state travelers to either have a negative COVID-19 test on arrival or they need to quarantine for varying periods of time.  

The CDC has said it would not grant waivers to exempt travelers from some countries with limited testing capacity. Numerous US airlines had sought waivers.

The State Department said on Tuesday that US citizens should reconsider non-essential travel abroad, noting that access to testing in some nations remains difficult. The agency also cautioned Americans to consider ahead of international travel how they'd pay for health care and additional lodging costs if they became infected or hospitalized while travelling. 

Acting Assistant Secretary of State Ian Brownlee has said the CDC is 'not at this time issuing federal quarantine orders' but recommends self-quarantining for seven days after returning from a trip and getting post-arrival COVID-19 tests.


Video: New CDC travel restrictions to curb COVID-19 go into effect (TODAY)

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Brownlee said the 'main message to US citizens considering travel abroad remains the same: Seriously reconsider going overseas right now'.

'If you're overseas right now, it's going to be harder to come home for a while,' Brownlee said.       

chart, histogram: There have been more than 25.3 million infections reported in the US since the start of the pandemic © Provided by Daily Mail There have been more than 25.3 million infections reported in the US since the start of the pandemic chart, histogram © Provided by Daily Mail

The airline industry has already been hit hard by the COVID pandemic, with lockdown restrictions and fears over catching the virus on planes sending passenger numbers plummeting.

Passenger traffic was down 67 per cent in 2020, wiping out 21 years of global aviation growth in a matter of months, as passenger numbers dropped to levels last seen in 1999.

At the peak of the disruption in April, scheduled passenger flights dropped to just 13,600 globally, on April 25, compared to 2020's busiest day on January 3 when Cirium tracked over 95,000 scheduled passenger flights - an extraordinary 86 per cent reduction in flights.  

The prohibition Biden has reinstated suspends entry to nearly all foreign nationals who have been in any of the countries on the restricted list at any point during the 14 days before their scheduled travel to the US.

President Donald Trump in his final days in office had called for the relaxation of the travel restrictions. 

Dr Anthony Fauci called Biden's decision to reinstate the travel restrictions - and add South Africa to the list - 'prudent'.

'We have concern about the mutation that's in South Africa,' Fauci told 'CBS This Morning.' 

'We're looking at it very actively. It is clearly a different and more ominous than the one in the UK, and I think it's very prudent to restrict travel of noncitizens.'

The 26 European countries impacted by reinstatement of the ban are part of the border-free Schengen zone. They include Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

map: The South Africa variant has not yet been discovered in the US but other variants that originated in the United Kingdom and Brazil have been detected in several states © Provided by Daily Mail The South Africa variant has not yet been discovered in the US but other variants that originated in the United Kingdom and Brazil have been detected in several states

Fauci said there is 'a very slight, modest diminution' of the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against those variants but 'there´s enough cushion with the vaccines that we have that we still consider them to be effective against both the UK strain and the South Africa strain.'

He warned, however, that more mutations are possible and said scientists are preparing to adapt the vaccines if necessary.

'We really need to make sure that we begin, and we already have, to prepare if it's necessary to upgrade the vaccines,' Fauci said. 

'We're already taking steps in that direction despite the fact that the vaccines we have now do work.'

While infections, hospitalizations and deaths have seen a decline in recent days, a forecast model is predicting that nearly 569,000 people will die by May 1.

The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shared the new forecast, which predicts a third wave of the coronavirus later this year if people don't get vaccinated. 

The model does show a significant decrease in cases and deaths beginning in March and April, but it doesn't account for the new variants of COVID that have been found in the US. 

The US has reported more than 25.3 million infections since the pandemic hit the country last year. At least 423,653 Americans have died from the virus. 

So far, just over 24.4 million Americans have received the COVID-19 vaccine.  

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