Quarantine and wider mask mandate: Biden signs raft of COVID orders

Quarantine and wider mask mandate: Biden signs raft of COVID orders

Thursday, January 21, 2021

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WASHINGTON,United States(AFP) — Travelers to the US will be required to quarantine on arrival while masks will be mandated on many domestic trains, planes and buses, President Joe Biden said Thursday as he signed a raft of new executive orders to curb the COVID pandemic.

The new leader of the world's hardest-hit country has made fighting the coronavirus one of his top priorities, describing the endeavour as a "wartime undertaking" as he spoke to reporters from the Oval Office.

More than 408,000 people have died from the disease in the US, which is more than the total military fatalities the country experienced in World War II.

"In addition to wearing masks, everyone flying to the United States from another country will need to test before they get on that plane, before they depart, and quarantine when they arrive in America," he said.

The testing requirement was announced by the previous administration of Donald Trump, but quarantine was only a recommendation.

It comes as alarming, more contagious new variants of the virus have emerged around the world. One particular mutationfrom South Africa has raised concerns over vaccine effectiveness.

Biden added he was signing a new order "to extend masking requirements on interstate travel, like on trains, planes and buses".

The measures are part of Biden's national strategy that is outlined in a 200-page document that foresees scaling up vaccinations, testing, returning students to school and rebuilding trust with the public among other goals.

The president is also seeking US$1.9 trillion from Congress for a COVID relief package.

The administration plans to invoke emergency legislation called the Defense Production Act to increase industrial output of vaccines and other medical supplies, while also setting up thousands of federal testing sites.

Biden said he expected a federal pharmacy vaccination program to begin "by the seventh or eighth of February",

As of Wednesday, 35.9 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna shots had been distributed to states, while 16.5 million have reached arms as either the first or second injection — a rate of 46 per cent.

The administration will be seeking to boost the supply while reducing distribution bottlenecks.

While the measures mark a clear break from Trump's administration, it was unclear how some of them, including the widened mask mandate and quarantine measure, would be enforced.

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