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Air travelers to US set to face tougher COVID-19 testing in response to Omicron

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The US is moving to require that all air travelers entering the country show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure in response to concerns about a new coronavirus variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday.

Currently, vaccinated international air travelers can present a negative test result obtained within three days from their point of departure. Nearly all foreign nationals must be vaccinated to enter the US. Unvaccinated travelers currently must get a negative COVID-19 test within one day of arrival.

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The new one-day testing requirement would apply equally to US citizens as well as foreign nationals.

Reuters reported earlier that a draft proposal was circulating among government agencies for the stricter testing requirement.

A CDC spokeswoman confirmed the agency is working to modify its global testing rules for travel “as we learn more about the Omicron variant; a revised order would shorten the timeline for required testing for all international air travelers to one day before departure to the US.”

The administration is also considering whether to require air travelers to get another COVID-19 test within three to five days after arrival in the US, officials said.

The CDC did not confirm that, but noted it continues to recommend all “travelers should get a COVID-19 viral test 3-5 days after arrival” and “post-travel quarantine for any unvaccinated travelers.”

The stricter rules could be announced Thursday, but it was not clear when they might take effect.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the agency “is evaluating how to make international travel as safe as possible, including pre-departure testing closer to the time of flight and considerations around additional post-arrival testing and self-quarantines.”

On Monday, the White House barred nearly all foreign nationals who have recently been in South Africa and seven other southern African countries over concerns about the Omicron variant.

A White House official said earlier Tuesday the administration is evaluating COVID-19 measures “including considering more stringent testing requirements for international travel.”

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On Tuesday, the CDC advised Americans against travel to Niger, Papua New Guinea, Poland, and Trinidad and Tobago, citing COVID-19 concerns.

The CDC now lists about 80 foreign destinations as having “Level Four,” its highest level of COVID-19 transmission, and discourages Americans from traveling to those destinations.

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NATO chief says reaching out to Russia but ‘prepared for worst’

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NATO on Wednesday delivered its proposals to Russia for a diplomatic solution to tensions triggered by Moscow's military build-up near Ukraine, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, but remained “prepared for the worst”.

“We are now reaching out to Russia once again to try to pursue a path of dialogue and find a political solution,” he said, after the alliance sent Moscow a written response to its security demands.

“But of course while we are hoping for and working for a good solution, de-escalation, we are also prepared for the worst,” he said.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko confirmed to the news agency Interfax that Moscow had received the response from NATO, which was handed to Russia's envoy in Brussels.

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Asked how long Russia could take to study the response, he said: “We'll read it. We'll study it. Our partners had taken nearly a month and a half to study our draft.”

Stoltenberg said US-led NATO was ready for a “real conversation” over Russian concerns — but rejected a key Moscow demand to close the door on Ukraine's hope of joining.

“We cannot and will not compromise on the principles on which the security of our alliances and security in Europe and North America rest,” he said.

The alliance's proposals were handed over the same time as the US delivered its own written response to the Kremlin.

Moscow blindsided the West by publishing two draft treaties for the US and NATO in December that would see Washington's influence rolled back in eastern Europe.

The demands were made as Moscow massed some 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, in a move the West warns could be the prelude to a large-scale invasion.

Stoltenberg laid out a raft of areas where he said NATO thought it could engage constructively with the Kremlin, including improving communications, increasing transparency around military exercises, and arms control.

NATO is hoping its offer is enough to convince Moscow to hold further talks with the alliance and de-escalate the tensions on the ground.

Read more:

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Saudi Arabia, UAE, UK, US condemn Houthi attacks, reaffirm support to Gulf security

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Saudi Arabia, the UAE, UK, US, and Oman condemned the Houthi attacks which targeted civilian sites in the Kingdom and Emirati capital Abu Dhabi, and reaffirmed support to both Gulf countries’ national security, a joint statement issued by the Saudi foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

Senior representatives from the five countries met on Wednesday to discuss Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis’ attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE recently. The UN envoy to Yemen participated in the meeting.

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia intercepted missile attacks launched by the Houthis targeting civilian sites in the Gulf countries within the two weeks.

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“The Quint strongly condemned the Houthis’ repeated attacks against civilians within Yemen, including US local staff in Sana’a and their continued heinous terrorist attacks against Saudi Arabia and more recently the UAE. Such actions are obstructing peace efforts and exacerbating suffering,” the statement said.

It added: “The Quint expressed full support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE and their legitimate national security concerns and called for an immediate end to attacks by the Houthis. The Quint acknowledged the legitimate right of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to defend themselves against terrorist attacks as per international law and following international humanitarian law, including taking all feasible precautions to avoid civilian harm.”

The five countries also discussed the “illicit Iranian provision of missiles and advanced weaponry to the Houthis.”

Iran did not comment directly on the recent attacks by the Houthis, but it commented on what it described as “recent Yemen-linked developments” by saying military attacks were not the solution.

Iran has long supplied the Houthis with financial and military support. However, it is not yet clear if Iran sanctioned the attack, or if it was completely a Houthi singular decision.

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Turkey’s Erdogan says Russia would be unwise to invade Ukraine

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Russia would be unwise to attack Ukraine and in that case Turkey would do what is necessary as a NATO member, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.

In an interview with broadcaster NTV Erdogan said he had invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to Turkey under a proposal to host both sides for diplomacy and a path to peace, adding that he expects a response from Moscow.

Erdogan also said there was a need for comprehensive dialogue that addresses some of Russia's security concerns and that also explains to Moscow that some of its demands are not plausible.

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‘I hope that Russia will not make an armed attack or occupy Ukraine. Such a step will not be a wise act for Russia or the region,’ he said. ‘There is a need for dialogue that will listen to Russia and eliminate their reasonable security concerns.’

Ankara has good ties with both Kyiv and Moscow, but opposes Russian policies in Syria and Libya, as well as its annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014. While forging cooperation with Russia on defence and energy, Ankara has also sold sophisticated drones to Ukraine, angering Moscow.

‘I repeat that we are ready to do whatever is necessary and I conveyed these messages to President Putin and President (Volodymyr) Zelenskiy,’ Erdogan said. ‘I think both countries are aware of the sincerity and good intent of Turkey,’

The crisis should be solved ‘avoiding the use of force,’ he added. ‘We hope the NATO initiative will be successful on this.’

Turkey first floated the mediation offer in November. Last week diplomatic sources said both Russia and Ukraine were open to Turkey playing a role in resolving the crisis.

Erdogan has said he would visit Zelenskiy in Ukraine in early February to discuss the crisis and would also meet or call Putin soon.

Read more:

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Putin will pay ‘dear price’ if Russia invades Ukraine: US President Biden

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