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The White House said Thursday that a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for domestic travel is still on the table as the United States enters the winter months battling the new omicron variant, saying the Biden administration will continue to “evaluate and assess on a daily basis. “
On Thursday, President Biden will formally announce a series of steps to take COVID-19, including a requirement for all international passengers flying to the United States to test for COVID within 24 hours of departure – regardless of vaccination status – and an extension of its mask requirements on all domestic and public transport flights.
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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked on Thursday whether a vaccine requirement would be added for passengers traveling on domestic flights.
“I would say that nothing is off the table, so including domestic travel,” Psaki said, noting that there are already “some strong protections in place, including the requirement to wear a mask.”
The White House is set to extend the mask mandate until March 18, adding a doubling of fines if individuals do not comply. The current mask mandate was due to expire on January 18 following an extension in August last year.
The mask requirement has contributed to an increase in quarrels over aircraft and other forms of public transport. Last month, Justice Minister Merrick Garland ordered the Justice Department to step up its efforts to prosecute unruly passengers.
“We base our decisions on the advice of health and medical experts,” Psaki said, noting that officials look at “a number of factors when making decisions about what steps we can take.”
“Again, nothing is off the table,” Psaki added.
And White House coronavirus task force coordinator Jeffrey Zients was asked this week during an interview on MSNBC about a potential requirement for a domestic flight vaccine – something he also left as an option.
“We have the strict requirements for international travel, we have the requirements for the workplace, we will continue to look at all options and everything is on the table,” Zients said.
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The changes in travel and mask requirements come as public health officials have expressed concern about the omicron variant, the latest mutant strain of COVID-19.
Biden last week restricted travel from South Africa and seven other countries due to concerns over the “highly mutated” omicron variant of COVID-19 – a move he said Monday gives the United States “time.”
As for travel bans from other nations reporting cases of the omicron variant, the White House said it continues to “assess on a daily basis” and that the president “will always make mistakes in protecting the American people.”
“The decision to impose specific travel restrictions from a number of countries was made on the basis of a recommendation from our health and medical team and based on the fact that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of cases that we saw in South Africa and were concerned about. neighboring countries, “Psaki said. “So it was a decision that was made at the time – no one wants it to be permanent.”
She added that the administration is assessing whether “additional restrictions should be introduced.”
But this week, a Californian resident vaccinated against COVID-19 was confirmed as the first U.S. case of the omicron variant.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday also identified another case of the variant in the United States – a resident of Minnesota who had traveled to New York.
As for the threat posed by omicron, Psaki said Thursday that there is “a lot we do not know.”
“And it’s challenging and frustrating, I understand, for Americans, for all of you,” Psaki said. “And we want to provide space and time for the public health officials who work 24/7 to assess and provide guidance on that.”
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She added: “It could be less deadly, it could be more. We do not know.”
Meanwhile, the White House stressed that the new measures are implemented based on what officials believe “will be most effective.”
“We continue to add and make vaccines and boosters more accessible and accessible,” Psaki said. “So we will continue to evaluate and evaluate on a daily basis.”
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