BBC News:- President Joe Biden has unveiled stricter travel rules to stem coronavirus as the US confirmed eight cases of the Omicron variant.
Mr Biden said his plan “doesn’t include shutdowns or lockdowns” and does not expand vaccine mandates.
New York state has five Omicron cases and Minnesota and Colorado one each. The first US case cropped up in California on Wednesday.
Local health officials have so far reported mild symptoms in the cases.
The variant has now been found in at least 23 countries.
It is still not clear whether the highly-mutated Omicron strain is associated with more transmission or more risk of evading vaccines.
What’s Biden’s plan?
Under the details unveiled on Thursday, all international passengers will have to be tested for the virus in the 24 hours before they leave for the US, regardless of their vaccination status. Mask requirements on planes, trains and buses will be extended until March.
The US government will seek to make available millions of free at-home tests through private insurance companies for those who have coverage and through health centres and rural clinics for those who do not.
The administration’s plan for the winter months also consists of steps to encourage all adults to get their booster vaccines, including through a public education campaign and more targeted outreach.
Over 40 million Americans have received their boosters, but Mr Biden said nearly 100 million more are eligible and have not yet had theirs.
Hundreds of family vaccination clinics will be set up across the country in an attempt to increase vaccination rates among children and teenagers.
The US and several other countries have banned travel from eight southern African countries. Health experts have said travel restrictions will buy them time to study the new variant.
Five cases of the variant have been detected in New York, state Governor Kathy Hochul said on Thursday evening.
A man who attended a convention in Manhattan in late November tested positive for the variant, said officials.
One of the cases was a vaccinated 67-year-old woman in Suffolk County who was experiencing mild symptoms of a cough and a headache, said Governor Hochul. The other four were in New York City.
A case confirmed in California on Wednesday and in Colorado Thursday were identified in travellers who had recently flown back from South Africa.
A Omicron-positive individual in Minnesota had recently returned from a three-day anime (Japanese cartoon) convention in New York City.