Thu | Feb 25, 2021

New US travel rules as Biden battles virus

Published:Friday | January 22, 2021 | 12:14 AM
People watch a TV screen showing a news report about United States President Joe Biden's inauguration at the Seoul Railway Station in South Korea. The screen reads 'New leadership'.
People watch a TV screen showing a news report about United States President Joe Biden's inauguration at the Seoul Railway Station in South Korea. The screen reads 'New leadership'.

WASHINGTON (AP):

With a burst of executive orders, President Joe Biden served notice on Thursday that America’s war on COVID-19 is under new command, promising an anxious nation progress to reduce infections and lift the siege it has endured for nearly a year.

At the same time, he tried to manage expectations in his second day in office, saying that despite the best intentions, “we’re going to face setbacks”. He brushed off a reporter’s question on whether his goal of 100 million coronavirus shots in 100 days should be more ambitious, a point pressed by some public-health experts.

The 10 orders signed by Biden are aimed at jump-starting his national COVID-19 strategy to increase vaccinations and testing, lay the groundwork for reopening schools and businesses, and immediately increase the use of masks — including a requirement that Americans mask up for travel. One directive calls for addressing healthcare inequities in minority communities hard hit by the virus.

“We didn’t get into this mess overnight, and it will take months to turn this around,” Biden said at the White House. US deaths have surged past 400,000, and he noted projections that they could reach 500,000 in a month.

The new president has vowed to take far more aggressive measures to contain the virus than his predecessor, starting with stringent adherence to public health guidance. A key difference is that under Biden, the federal government is assuming full responsibility for the COVID response. And instead of delegating major tasks to states, he is offering to help them with technical backup and federal money.

He faces steep obstacles, with the virus actively spreading in most states, vaccine shortages, slow progress on distribution, and political uncertainty over whether congressional Republicans will help him pass a $1.9 trillion economic relief and COVID response package.

Biden’s mask order for travel applies to airports and planes, ships, inter-city buses, trains, and public transportation. Travellers from abroad must furnish a negative COVID-19 test before departing for the US and must quarantine upon arrival. Biden has already mandated masks on federal property.

Although airlines, Amtrak, and other transport providers now require masks, Biden’s order makes it a federal mandate, leaving little wiggle room for passengers tempted to argue about their rights.

It marks a sharp break with the culture of President Donald Trump’s administration, under which masks were optional. Biden, however, said his administration’s coronavirus decisions would be based on science, not politics.