Joe Biden not planning COVID vaccine mandates for domestic travel

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The United States will not see any vaccine mandates for domestic travel “at this point,” President Biden said Friday as the Omicron coronavirus variant has been detected in at least five states, including New York

After giving remarks on the November jobs report, Biden was pressed on recently announced international travel mandates, requiring all air travelers to the US to test negative for the virus within one day of their flight, rather than within three days. 

“Are you considering requirements for domestic travel or any other new measures for domestic travel?” one reporter asked the president. 

“The measure that I announced yesterday are — we believe are — sufficiently to deal with the proper medical precautions to deal with the spread of this new variant,” Biden said. “We are doing — as you know, at NIH as well as among manufacturers — a lot of research to see the extent of how quickly it spreads, how deadly it is, etc. etc.

President Joe Biden
President Biden said he had “just a cold” while talking to reporters Friday.
AP

“But we do require for travel, we’re going to continue to require people to have masks on, masks on. And in public places and federal buildings.

“So, but I don’t at this point, because I mean, I think I know a fair amount about this issue. But I’m not a scientist,” Biden continued. “So I continue to rely on the scientists and asking them whether or not we have to move beyond what we did yesterday. Right now, they’re saying no.” 

Friday’s remarks caught the attention of many, as Biden, 79, spoke with an unusually deep, raspy voice. The president later blamed the abnormal tone on “just a cold.”

Press Briefing by White House COVID-19 Response Team and Public Health Officials.
The Biden administration said it is not planning any new measures for domestic travel.
White House.Gov

“I’m OK. I have a test every day to see, a COVID test, they check me for all the strains,” Biden said when asked about his new voice. “What I have is a 1 1/2-year-old grandson who had a cold who likes to kiss his pop.”

“And he’d been kissing … but it’s just a cold,” he added.

The international travel changes come days after the administration announced a travel ban on several south African countries, where the Omicron variant was first detected. Its high number of mutations means it may be more contagious, though that hasn’t yet been proven.

All international travelers will have to test negative for COVID-19 within one day of their flight.
EPA

Critics have slammed the travel ban using language similar to that used by Biden when he criticized former President Donald Trump’s travel ban on China and European countries at the start of the coronavirus pandemic — particularly when several of the countries under Biden’s ban were not reporting any cases of the variant. 

On Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked why the travel restriction “still makes sense” now that Omicron has been reported in multiple states.

Psaki claimed the call was “not a decision made out of the White House,” but was “based on the recommendation, always of our public health and medical experts.” 

Dr. Manjul Shukla transfers Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe.
Officials worry that the Omicron variant may be more dangerous than previous strains, but scientists still need more data.
AP

“They have advised, several days ago, [for] the president to put in place restrictions on a set of countries where we are seeing the variant — specifically in south Africa — spread to hundreds if not thousands of cases and neighboring countries because of the concern about spread,” she added. “We will evaluate every day if those restrictions — any of these restrictions — should be expanded upon.”

Later in the briefing, she got into a heated exchange with White House correspondent Simon Ateba of Today News Africa, who accused her of lying about the justification for the ban, saying, “You are saying something that is false.”

A day before, Ateba pressed White House health adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci on the matter.

Girl with bandaid.
Omicron has been found in five states, including some cases in New York.
AP

“There are zero cases of COVID — of Omicron in Zimbabwe, in Namibia, in Lesotho, in Mozambique,” Ateba asked. “What justifies imposing a travel ban on countries that have zero cases of the Omicron variant?

“You know, that’s a very good question and important question, and we did struggle with that,” Fauci answered. “But we wanted to see if we could buy time temporarily, so I do hope that this gets sorted out and lifted before it has any significant impact on your country.”

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