Tighter Covid-19 mandates on anvil

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Administration debating a controversial proposal to require all travellers, including US citizens, to self-quarantine for seven days, even if their test results are negative, reports Asian Lite News

The Joe Biden administration is preparing stricter testing requirements for all travellers entering the US, including returning Americans, to curb the spread of the potentially dangerous Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plans to toughen coronavirus testing and screening of international fliers to the US by requiring them to provide a negative result from a test taken within 24 hours of departure, said The New York Times on Wednesday. Administration officials are also considering a requirement that all travellers get re-tested within three to five days of arrival.

In addition, they are debating a controversial proposal to require all travellers, including US citizens, to self-quarantine for seven days, even if their test results are negative. Those who flout the requirements might be subject to fines and penalties, the first time such penalties would be linked to testing and quarantine measures for travellers in the US.

These stricter measures emerged as the federal Covid-19 mandate policy suffered major legal setbacks in tandem. The Biden administration was temporarily blocked from enforcing Covid-19 vaccine mandates for millions of workers by federal judges in Kentucky and Louisiana on Tuesday, a day after a federal judge in Missouri halted the mandate, which has a January 4 deadline, in 10 states.

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The federal judge in Louisiana temporarily blocked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services from enforcing its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers until the court can resolve legal challenges. The ruling applied nationwide, except in 10 states in the Missouri halt, Xinhua news agency reported.

Separately, the federal judge in Kentucky blocked the administration from enforcing a regulation that new government contracts must include clauses requiring that contractors’ employees get vaccinated. The contractor ruling applied in the three states that had filed the lawsuit: Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon said that National Guard members who refuse to be vaccinated against the coronavirus will be barred from training and have their pay withheld, “in an apparent warning shot from the Biden administration to Republican Governors looking to defy federal mandates,” said The Washington Post (WP) on Wednesday.

The directive from Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin came a day after he rejected a request from Republican Oklahoma Governor, Kevin Stitt to exempt his state’s National Guard members from the vaccine requirement. Stitt is the only Governor to enact such a policy.

In his guidance, Austin said all 2.1 million service members, including National Guard personnel under state command, are obligated to follow his August order instructing them to receive the vaccine. Failure to comply, he added, will result in disciplinary action and imperil their careers.

In contrast, according to the guidance the White House sent to unions this week, federal employees who have not complied with the coronavirus vaccine mandate will not face aggressive discipline, including unpaid suspensions or firing, until at least early 2022.

Administration officials have told the unions that agencies for now will continue offering counseling and education to the roughly 3.5 per cent of workers who have yet to receive a vaccination or request an exemption, said the American Federation of Government Employees on Monday.

Agencies will pursue only “education and counseling efforts through this holiday season as the first step in an enforcement process” and take no further actions beyond a possible letter of reprimand “for most employees who have not yet complied with the vaccination requirement until the new calendar year begins in January,” WP reported.

Americans urged to get vaccinated

White House Chief Medical adviser, Anthony Fauci has urged Americans to get vaccinated or boosted against Covid-19 as the first US case of Omicron variant was found in California.

“We know what we need to do to protect people. Get vaccinated, if you’re not already vaccinated. Get boosted if you’ve been vaccinated for more than six months with an mRNA or two months with Johnson & Johnson,” he told reporters on Wednesday in a news conference at the White House.

As of November 30, 197.1 million people, or 60 per cent of the US population, have been fully vaccinated. And 41.1 million received a booster shot, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As Fauci spoke, California’s health officials announced in a statement that a fully vaccinated traveller who returned to the state from South Africa on November 22 was tested positive with Omicron variant.

“We knew that it was just a matter of time. The individual is self-quarantining and all close contacts have been contacted and all close contacts thus far have tested negative,” he said.

Fauci added that the person was vaccinated but had not received a booster shot and was experiencing “mild symptoms.”

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