Tue, 25 Jan 2022

NEW YORK, Dec. 1 (Xinhua) -- The Joe Biden administration is preparing stricter testing requirements for all travelers entering the United States, including returning Americans, to curb the spread of the potentially dangerous Omicron variant of COVID-19, major U.S. media quoted federal health officials as saying.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plans to toughen coronavirus testing and screening of international fliers to the United States 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 travelers get re-tested within three to five days of arrival.

In addition, they are debating a controversial proposal to require all travelers, including U.S. 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 travelers in the United States.

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, one day after a federal judge in Missouri halted the mandate, which has a Jan. 4 deadline, in 10 states.

The federal judge in Louisiana temporarily blocked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) 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.

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. STRINGENCY AND LENIENCY

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 Defense 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 has said, 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 next year.

Administration officials have told the unions that agencies for now will continue offering counseling and education to the roughly 3.5 percent 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.

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