A week before the U.S. plans to announce details of its quarantine policy for incoming travelers, the new administration and the Centers for Disease Control are under intense pressure from health officials and the travel industry. Last week, the government announced a mask-wearing requirement on all public transportation, including for airline passengers entering the U.S., and said rules for a quarantine would be announced the first week in February.
Dozens of medical and public health officials are urging the government to tighten quarantine requirements to meet the standards of other nations in the fight against the Covid-19 virus. They say that new more contagious, and possibly more deadly, variants of the virus discovered in Great Britain, South Africa and Brazil require “draconian” measures.
In its statement last week, the Biden administration said the new quarantine would be self-monitored for a period of seven days, but with reporting requirements to be announced. The government said that all air and land travelers entering the country would also be required to present a negative Covid test before flying and again, several days after arrival.
“A seven-day, self-maintained quarantined is not enough to protect the U.S.,” says Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist. “The new mutations pose a terrifying risk to our health care system and controlling it will take extreme, even draconian measures. Instead of a half-hearted quarantine program that leaves it up to travelers for compliance, we need programs similar to those in Australia, Germany and many other countries.”
Dozens of other countries, including Australia, Britain and members of the European Union, require foreign travelers to undergo a two-week supervised quarantine in a designated hotel before they are released. Other countries that allow travelers to choose the location of their quarantine, require the wearing of GPS ankle bracelets.
International air carriers and tourism companies are fighting back, claiming that a quarantine will severely reduce international travel. “We have already endured a terrible year due to the virus and to install tougher quarantine requirements at this time would be devastating to the travel and tourism industries,” says Roscoe Ellis, whose Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm represents tour operators, hotels and airlines. Ellis says he opposes any U.S. quarantine but especially a two-week hotel lockdown.
Spokeswoman for the International Air Transport Association Karen Hodges agrees with Ellis. “The airline industry is just beginning its long recovery from the losses of 2020 and new restrictions would be very bad news for many of our members and could even put some of them out of businss. We support the new face mask requirement, which has been proven to protect against the Covid virus, but we appeal to U.S. authorities not to require a 14-day quarantine. This would be a real killer.”
Ellis points out that the number of new Covid-19 infections is dropping rapidly in the U.S. and Europe, having peaked in late December and early January, and health measures should be relaxing, not “ramping up.”
Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development in Texas, acknowledges that infection numbers are dropping but says they will soon be headed higher when the new Covid variant begin infecting the U.S. population. “All three variants have already been identified in the U.S. and are beginning to spread. “We cannot stop the spread but preemptive health measures, such as strict quarantines, can help us manage it.”
Hotez added: “I think it’s clear that the vaccine program is not going to save us from the next surge of infections. Given the delays in manufacturing, we are looking at late summer at the earliest for building an effective level of immunity.”