ATLANTA - The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has ordered all airlines to turn over the names of passengers who have traveled to southern African countries now under travel restrictions.
South African scientists announced last week they’d identified the omicron COVID-19 variant, which shows signs of being highly infectious. Since then, western nations have enacted travel restrictions on South Africa — as well as its neighbors Namibia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Eswatini.
The United States' restrictions went into effect Monday, which restricted travel by non-citizens from those countries. The U.S. State Department classified it as a level 4 travel advisory, the highest advisory level, and noted that there is a "greater likelihood of life-threatening risks" under this level.
The CDC is seeking the following information from airlines on passengers who’ve been to these countries within the 14 days preceding the flight:
- Full name (last, first, and, if available, middle or suffix (e.g., Jr.)
- Address while in the United States (number and street, city, state or territory, and ZIP Code)
- Primary phone number to include country and area code, at which the passenger can be contacted while in the United States
- Secondary phone number to include country and area code, which may be an
- emergency contact number, a work number, or a home number
- E-mail address that the passenger will routinely check while in the United States
- Date of birth
- Airline name
- Flight number
- City of departure
- Departure date and time
- City of arrival
- Arrival date and time
- Seat number
A security guard walks on the grounds of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S, on Saturday, March 14, 2020.(Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
In compliance with the CDC’s Contact Information Collection Order, airlines have been asked to collect such data for all passengers before boarding (but not more than 72 hours before departing from the flight’s foreign point of departure).
The data must be submitted to the CDC within 24 hours of a request.
South Africa and the African Union’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have taken issue with the travel restriction placed on the region.
Dr. Joe Phaahla, the county’s health minister, called them a "knee-jerk reaction" and said they were not advised by the World Health Organization (WHO) nor were they based on science.
"It really doesn’t look scientific in any way. So that’s why we insist that kind of reaction is quite knee-jerk and panic and actually almost wanting to put the blame on other countries rather than work together as guided by the World Health Organization," Phaahla said.
The WHO has labeled the omicron variant as a variant of concern, a distinction it shares with other variants like alpha, beta, gamma and delta.
This story was reported from Atlanta.