President Joe Biden is expected to extend the federal masking mandate for air, train and bus passengers until mid-March amid the spread of COVID-19, and as concerns grow over the new omicron variant of coronavirus, according to reports.
For nearly a year, the United States has required passengers using public transportation, as well as at airports and train stations, among other hubs, to wear masks to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus. The mandate was set to expire on January 18 after that recent expansion in August. The president initially put it in place shortly after he took office.
The president is expected to lay out a winter strategy to combat COVID-19 on Thursday, while the world struggles to learn more about the omicron strain, which was first discovered in South Africa and Botswana. The variant has rapidly spread across the globe and has already emerged in more than 20 nations.
The first US case of the omicron variant was confirmed in California on Wednesday by a traveler who had recently returned from South Africa. The strain has worried researchers because of the high number of mutations, although there is no evidence yet that they allow the virus to be more transmissible or able to evade currently available vaccines.
As part of this plan, Biden is expected to announce the extension of the mask mandate, Reuters reported first. The New York Times added that Biden is too expected to tighten COVID-19 test rules for anyone traveling to the United States from another country. International travelers are expected to be required to show a negative coronavirus test within 24 hours of departure instead of the three days now in place.
All foreign travelers are already required to be fully vaccinated before entering the country. The new test rules are expected to apply to both foreigners and US citizens.
The White House has already imposed travel restrictions on anyone coming to the United States from eight South African nations, including South Africa. World Health Organization officials condemned the move, saying the region was being punished for its transparency, although White House officials said the temporary ban would buy the United States time to draw up a strategy to combat another wave of infections.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top expert in infectious diseases, has urged Americans who have not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine to do so. He also said that those who are eligible for a booster should roll up their sleeves and get one.
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