WASHINGTON – Regarding President Joe Biden’s announcement on Thursday new COVID measures for the Omicron variant That has created a wave of global anxiety over the past week, many Toronto Star readers will wonder: what does this mean for Canadians?
So let’s start there: any Canadian who plans fly To the US for a visit this winter you will need to show proof of a negative COVID antigen test taken within one day of your arrival (rather than within three days as required above).
That’s it, unless you’ve somehow booked a layover flight in Botswana, or one of the other southern African countries from which to travel to the U.S. It’s now prohibited (although I would have wanted to rethink that from anyway, since Canada has forbidden to travel of those who have visited the same countries, and more).
A senior White House official confirmed to the Star as background that no immediate changes are being implemented in land border travel. So if you’re fully vaccinated, your road trip to the US – to visit family, Christmas shopping at a cross-border mall, or to see the annual Rockettes Christmas show on Broadway – will not be affected – for now. .
Of course, in the bigger picture, Canadians are affected by more than the implications for their own travel plans. Sleeping in a bed next to an elephant, as Canada proverbially does when sharing a continent and an economy with 300 million inhabitants of a world superpower, the health precautions that the elephant takes to avoid being devastated by communicable diseases are always a question. of interest. interest. And most of the measures Biden announced were aimed at increasing the protections offered to Americans as the global scientific community realizes just how dangerous the new variant pandemic will prove to be.
“We are going to fight this variant with science and speed, not with chaos and confusion,” Biden said Thursday afternoon, revealing his plan. “This is a time when we can do what we have not been able to do enough throughout this pandemic: bring the nation together, unite the nation in a common purpose to fight this virus, protect each other, protect our economic recovery. “
Despite his plea, unity still seemed a long way off: Around the same time he was speaking, Republicans in Congress were threatening a government shutdown as early as this week if the Biden administration did not revoke its vaccines mandate for some. workers.
Biden emphasized two elements of his new approach: booster doses and home testing.
All American adults are now eligible for free vaccine boosters, and the Biden administration is launching greater availability of walk-in boosters through pharmacies and clinics and a number of outreach and education measures, especially for seniors. , to encourage people to get vaccinated. About 60 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated, while about 12.7 percent have received a booster shot. Biden also announced measures to try to increase the number of children who get vaccinated.
Biden also announced that the rapid COVID home test kits would be fully reimbursable to all Americans with private health insurance, and that the kits would also be provided to community health groups for free distribution to the millions of Americans who have no health insurance. safe. A senior administration official said during a news conference that the government had invested $ 3 billion this year to increase the supply of tests at home and expected availability this month to be four times higher than in the summer. The official said the goal is to ensure that the tests are “free and easy for everyone.”
There are a few other measures: speeding up the exchange of vaccines with underdeveloped countries, including in southern Africa, rapid response teams to combat Omicron and other outbreaks, preparing distribution plans for treatment options that may be approved by the FDA, but a that is not among them. it is any widespread return to masking mandates (except in public transportation facilities like planes and trains, where the mandate was extended through the spring).
Right now, only six US states have closed public place mask mandates for vaccinated people. Some experts have suggested that, especially since the vaccine resistance of the seemingly super-spread Omicron variant is unknown, face masks could be a particularly important early health measure.
A White House official said the administration agrees with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control recommending indoor masks even for vaccinated people. “That is certainly what we are practicing in the federal government, practicing in the White House, and we expect state and local authorities to do the same,” the official said. But there was no action on the matter among the new measures of the president. And anyone who has traveled to the United States recently will have observed that outside of the major cities, in most places, the wearing of masks has been almost completely abandoned.
Earlier Thursday, the second confirmed case of the Omicron variant was discovered in the US, this one in Minnesota after a previous case in California. It’s likely only a matter of hours or days before there are more. Perhaps many more. There may be more measures in the US – Biden’s press secretary said Thursday “nothing is off the table”In other measures that are being considered. Dr. Antony Fauci said that the US is working with drug companies to develop a potential “variant-specific drive.”
It’s hard to know what Omicron will turn out to be, so it’s hard to know whether the measures Biden announced Thursday will be adequate to deal with it.
Immediately, the effect on Canadians is limited to stricter probationary deadlines for air travel. In the long term, our destiny, as always, is inextricably linked to America’s effectiveness in fighting more waves of infections, illnesses, and deaths.