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The United States is tightening the requirements for entering the country: all because of a new highly mutated strain of coronavirus

The administration of US President Joe Biden is tightening the rules for travel to the United States and within the country. From now on, all arriving international passengers must be tested for COVID-19 within 24 hours of departure. In addition, the requirements for wearing masks on all domestic flights and public transport are expanding until March 18. Writes about this in more detail CNBC.

Photo: Shutterstock

The changes were announced on December 2. The move is part of a broader plan to strengthen the national arsenal of tools in the fight against coronavirus infections as the world enters its third year of the pandemic.

The plan is also the latest move by the Biden administration to stem the spread of a new highly mutated omicron strain, which was first reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) a week ago. Omicron cases have been detected in at least 23 countries, and this number is expected to rise in the coming days and weeks.

The United States joined the list after confirming the first case of the option in Northern California on Wednesday December 1. The second case was confirmed on December 2 in a Minnesota resident who recently returned from a conference in New York.

“This option is cause for concern, but not for panic,” the president said. "We're going to fight this option with science and speed, not chaos and confusion."

Toughened pre-departure testing protocols will apply to all arriving international travelers regardless of vaccination status as early as next week. Previously, the US required confirmation of a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of departure, although this was limited to only vaccinated travelers last month. Unvaccinated travelers were required to test negative for COVID-19 within one day of departure.

On the subject: The omicron is not as scary as it is painted: why you shouldn't panic because of a new strain of coronavirus

“Our doctors believe that stricter pre-departure testing requirements will help identify more cases in people who may be in the country,” said a senior administration official. “Now is the right time for that. And we can do it very quickly. "

Mask mandates, which were originally due to expire in January, require masks to be worn on buses, trains, planes and transport hubs such as closed bus terminals and airports. Fines will continue to be doubled from their original level for non-compliance, from $ 500 to $ 3 for a repeat violation.

Biden said such changes "would strengthen international travel" and give the US "more time to stop the spread and explore new options."

Vaccination requirements

The Biden administration's new plan, among other things, calls on businesses to "move forward as quickly as possible" and require workers to be vaccinated or tested weekly. The plan emphasizes that such protocols are “particularly important” given the new option.

“We ask companies to take a step forward and do what’s right to protect our workers, our communities — to introduce vaccination or testing requirements in the workplace,” said one White House official.

The administration has given time for businesses with 100 or more employees until January 4 to make sure their employees are either vaccinated against COVID-19 or take a test weekly before going to work.

Unvaccinated employees were required to wear masks indoors in the workplace from 5 December.

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However, earlier this month, the OSH administration suspended compliance.

More than two dozen lawsuits have been filed to overturn the Biden rules. But unions are asking courts to expand requirements to include small businesses and protect more workers.

Home tests for COVID-19

Biden's administration plan includes, among other things, more free home tests.

According to the plan, more than 150 million Americans with private insurance will be able to get reimbursed for their home tests. Those without private insurance will be able to access tests at home in public places such as health centers and local clinics.

“For those without insurance, we will make free tests available in thousands of convenient locations where people can take their test kits home,” Biden said. "As a result, this winter you can test yourself for free without leaving your home."

The plan also aims to boost advocacy to vaccinate more people, ensure equitable distribution of COVID-19 drugs to vulnerable populations, and create more than 60 rapid response teams across states to help fight the virus.

“The actions I am announcing should unite us in the fight against COVID-19,” Biden said.

Last week, the president imposed precautionary restrictions on air travel to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. He did not specify how long the bans will last.

On the subject: Chinese scientists have discovered an antibody that can defeat all strains of coronavirus

The restrictions came into effect three weeks after the US lifted a general ban on visitors from more than 30 countries, including the UK, India, Brazil and South Africa, and replaced them with vaccination requirements for tourists. Other countries imposed new travel restrictions last week, causing airline and travel stocks to plummet.

The president said his administration is working with vaccine manufacturers Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for additional vaccines designed to protect against the new variant of the virus.

The White House chief instructed the US Food and Drug Administration and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to use "the fastest available process without cutting corners" to approve such potential vaccines.

Current COVID-19 vaccines on the market are believed to provide some protection against omicron, Biden said, and booster vaccines "greatly enhance that protection."

White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci noted that the profile of this option suggests that mutations in it could reduce the effectiveness of existing vaccines. However, additional data is still needed.

Omicron has over 30 mutations in just one spike protein. According to the WHO, some mutations are associated with higher transmission and decreased protection of antibodies.

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