A brazen effort to track the spread of the Omicron variant to the U.S., but the reality is certainly that it's already in the states. Enter privacy advocates.
U.S. officials ordered airlines to disclose passenger names and other information about those who have recently been in eight southern African countries and will give it to local and state public health agencies, according to documents seen by Reuters.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told airlines in a letter late Tuesday that they must turn over names and contact information for any travelers who within 14 days have been to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, citing “the emergence of the Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19.”
“(The CDC) will provide the contact information of these passengers to jurisdictional state and local public health partners for public health follow-up. This follow-up may include recommendations for potential postarrival viral testing and quarantine and isolation,” the agency told airlines.
Effective Nov. 8, the CDC required all airlines to collect contact tracing information from all international air passengers but had not required them to turn over those names.
The new directive, which took effect late Tuesday and was seen by Reuters, mandates airlines to turn over the information within 24 hours of passengers arriving in the United States who have been in one of the eight African countries.
The collected information includes full name, full address while in the United States, primary contact phone number, secondary or emergency contact phone number, and email address.
The United States effective Monday barred nearly all foreign nationals if they have been in one of the southern African countries.
Separately, the CDC confirmed late Tuesday it is moving to require that all air travelers entering the country show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure in response to concerns about a new coronavirus variant.
Currently, vaccinated international air travelers can present a negative test result obtained within three days from their point of departure. Nearly all foreign nationals must be vaccinated to enter the United States. The unvaccinated must now get a negative COVID-19 test within one day of arrival.
The new one-day testing requirement would apply equally to U.S. citizens as well as foreign nationals.
The Biden administration is also considering whether to require air travelers to get another COVID-19 test within three to five days after arrival in the United States, officials said.
The administration could require international passengers to submit an “attestation” that would also require them to follow all state and local public health orders.
United Airlines and Delta Air Lines DAL.N> have not made any changes to their direct flights from South Africa since the new travel restrictions took effect.
(Reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)