The Biden administration is preparing new travel rules for everyone entering the U.S. by air, regardless of vaccination status. Rules are expected to be announced Thursday.
- Negative Covid-19 test within one day of travel rather than three days
- Possible requirement for a second test 3-5 days after arrival
- Even potential 7 day self-quarantine requirement on return for all travelers, backed by fines
The new policy “could take effect in a week or two.”
The two testing measures are detailed in a draft public health order written by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that is under review by officials at the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and the White House. The self quarantine-related measures are not in that draft but could be added later if the proposals get broader signoff, said the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the order has not been finalized.
The Justice Department has apparently not weighed in yet on the legality of a second test requirement or mandating self-quarantine. It’s also not clear how the U.S. would be prepared to monitor or enforce these rules in any fashion, and might rely mostly on the honor system perhaps bolstered by occasional high profile selective enforcement.
As Ethan Klapper observes, the U.S. cannot legally ban foreign travel, but they can make it really onerous so as to choke it off.
There’s no question this would massively dampen international travel to the U.S., but that’s unlikely to change the course of the pandemic. The Omicron variant is likely already in the U.S. It will continue to come here regardless of these rules. And infection levels in the country mean that the virus is mutating here as well.
Meanwhile vaccinated and tested air travelers are far less of a risk to most Americans than the unvaccinated people without access to the cheap $2 tests that are prevalent in Europe we all encounter in restaurants and bars every day.
A better approach is to,
- Get the FDA out of the way of cheap testing. Make it easy to test before any gathering.
- Expedite approval for variant vaccines.
- Approve Paxlovid immediately. It seems like we’ll need it.
- Offer clinical guidance on the use of fluvoxamine.
We have too few people in the U.S. boosted, in some measure because of mixed and ambivalent messaging from the federal government which didn’t want boosters to be used out of fear that they’d take away supply from the rest of the world and from a belief that we only needed protection from severe disease and not infection and spread. But we’ve let too many doses of vaccine expire unused.
Now the U.S. may pursue a policy that effectively kills international travel to look tough in advance of potentially very bad virus news in the form of the Omicron variant.
I’ll be surprised if the administration moves forward with a quarantine requirement. A requirement for a second test seems more likely, but enforcement would be surprising. They could – but aren’t likely to – require a PCR test for travel. Antigen tests are fantastic for showing current infectiousness, but if the goal is to keep out virus they are far less useful because they don’t reveal pre-infectious cases. People who test negative during travel aren’t likely to spread the virus to others they come into contact with during travel, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t carrying the virus.