The US government is mandating travellers wear face coverings on all public transportation, including on commercial airline flights and in airports, and is moving to require quarantines for inbound international passengers.

“In light of the new Covid variants that we are learning about, we are instituting now a new measure for individuals flying into the United States from other countries,” says newly-inaugurated President Joe Biden on 21 January. ”In addition to wearing masks, everyone flying to the United States from other countries will need to test before they get on that plane, before they depart, and quarantine when they arrive in America.”

Wearing a mask, Biden adds, is a “patriotic duty”. He warns that ”things are going to continue to get worse” before they improve.


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Biden mandates face coverings for all interstate travel

It is a marked shift from the previous US administration, which had resisted introducing such strong measures to contain the virus.

Biden’s order requires mask-wearing ”in airports and on certain modes of public transportation, including on many airplanes, trains and maritime vessels and intercity bus services”, says the White House.

The move comes after Biden ordered all federal employees and contractors to wear masks when they are on federal property, including in national parks.

“To the extent feasible, travelers seeking to enter the United States from a foreign country shall be…required to produce proof of a recent negative Covid-19 test prior to entry,” says the order, published by the White House. Inbound passengers will also be required to comply with quarantine and isolation guidelines.

The order gives the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Transportation 14 days to make recommendations on the feasibility of introducing alteratives to a negative Covid-19 test. Such measures might include testing, self-quarantine and self-isolation upon arrival for travellers from countries where Covid-19 tests are inaccessible – especially when lack of testing might hinder US citizens’ ability to return to the USA.

US airline trade group Airlines for America did not respond to a request for comment about the measures.

The new administration also published its “National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness” on 21 January, a 200-page document that outlines the government’s new strategy to mitigate the effects of the virus.

So far, one year to the day after the first US reported coronavirus case, the virus has killed more than 408,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University.