US to push through tougher measures against Covid-19

After the first US case of the Omicron Covid-19 variant was reported in California, the federal government is set to announce on Thursday a bunch of measures to help counter the virus, including campaigns to increase vaccinations and booster shots, additional testing requirements for travellers entering the country from abroad and plans to make rapid at-home coronavirus testing free for more people, major US news outlets reported.

While some of the measures are new, particularly a plan to launch “family mobile vaccination clinics,” where all eligible members of a family can simultaneously get first shots or boosters, others are molded on existing tactics, such as US President Joe Biden’s plan to urge businesses to adopt mandatory vaccination-or-testing requirements for their workers, Xinhua news agency reported.

International travellers coming to the US will have to test within a day of departure, regardless of vaccination status, rather than the 72 hours currently required for vaccinated travellers, under new protocols early next week. The new testing rules will apply both to US citizens and foreign nationals entering the country.

The administration will also require travellers to wear masks through mid-March on planes, buses and trains, and at domestic transportation hubs such as airports and indoor bus terminals, rather than allowing the requirement to expire on January 18 as planned. Fines will be doubled from their initial levels, with a minimum fine of $500 for non-compliance and up to $3,000 for repeat offenses.

The “package of coronavirus strategies comes as the nation grapples with mounting infections and deaths driven by the Delta variant and braces for the emergence of the still-mysterious Omicron. Scientists caution that it will take days, if not weeks, to understand if the new variant can evade current vaccines and cause more severe symptoms in infected people,” reported a leading US daily.

“Biden is trying to curb the virus’s spread and encourage precautions without endorsing the lockdowns and mask mandates that were widespread in earlier stages in the pandemic. Administration officials say that the pandemic is in a new phase, with vaccines and boosters in place, and that they can mitigate the spread of new variants without the economic and social disruptions that marked 2020,” the report added.

“The Biden administration has relied heavily on vaccination as a strategy to end the pandemic — too heavily, in the view of some experts, who have been saying for months that testing and mask-wearing are also essential to containing spread of the virus, and will become even more so if the Omicron variant escapes protection from vaccines,” another leading US media outlet reported.




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