Omicron variant: CDC asks airlines for names of passengers from travel ban countries

Airlines have been collecting passenger data for contact tracing since 8 November

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Wednesday 01 December 2021 16:33

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked airlines to turn over passenger manifests and other contract tracing data for all travelers who have arrived in the US from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe or who have been in those countries during the 14-day period preceding their arrival in the US.

The US public health authority made the demand in a 30 November letter to air carriers which cited citing “the emergence of the Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19”.

The agency said the data — including “the contact information of these passengers” — will be turned over to “jurisdictional state and local public health partners for public health follow-up,” which could include “recommendations for potential postarrival viral testing and quarantine and isolation”.

Each of the African countries in question has seen significant spread of the omicron variant of Cars-CoV-2 — the virus which causes Covid-19 — and most non-US citizen, non-permanent resident travel from those countries has been restricted since 12.01 on Monday under a proclamation signed by President Joe Biden last week.

Mr Biden has called the travel restrictions a “precautionary measure” meant to delay the spread of the omicron variant within the US, though he said on Monday that he believed the spread of the strain in America was “almost inevitable”.

The CDC’s directive to airlines, which was first reported by Reuters, comes nearly a month after an October directive for carriers operating flights arriving from anywhere overseas to “collect and/or maintain passenger and crewmember contact information” went into effect in concert with the Biden administration’s decision to reopen US borders to vaccinated travelers.

Although airlines have been required to retain contact information for passengers and crew on international flights, Tuesday’s demand for the information marks the first time the agency has asked airlines to turn over that data. Under a separate CDC regulation published last year, airlines must furnish the requested information — including passengers’ “full name, address in the U.S., one or two phone numbers, and email address” to the agency within 24 hours of receiving a request.

According to the February 2020 regulation, both the agency and the Department of Health and Human Services have found that “rapid contact” with a person believed to be exposed to a disease “can substantially improve the public health response to an outbreak”.

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