US asks airlines to collect passenger data from Africa

US health authorities have asked airlines to collect contact tracing information from passengers traveling to the country who have been to South Africa in the past two weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Wednesday it has issued the latest requirement to “prevent the import and spread of an infectious disease of public health importance.”

The instructions come after President Joe Biden issued an order barring most foreigners from entering the United States if they had been to South Africa, where the omicron type of coronavirus was first reported. The ban does not apply to Americans or permanent residents of the country who have visited these countries, although they must show a negative test for COVID-19.

Under a CDC order, obtained by the Associated Press, airlines must retain information on these passengers for 30 days and deliver it within 24 hours if the agency requests it.

The information they should request includes the passenger’s full name and date of birth, as well as where they will be staying in the United States, the email they check regularly, and two phone numbers, first and second. Airlines will also need to provide the passenger’s flight number, departure and arrival cities, and their seat number.

The guideline, which went into effect on flights on Monday, includes travelers who have recently visited Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

So far, United Airlines is maintaining its schedule of five flights per week from Newark, New Jersey, to Johannesburg, South Africa, and plans to resume flights to Cape Town on Wednesday. A spokeswoman noted that the airline meets all government requirements for international travel, including collecting information for contact tracing.

Delta Airlines flies three times a week between its headquarters in Atlanta and Johannesburg, and, like United, has noted that it does not plan to change its schedule. A spokesperson said Delta will adhere to all CDC guidelines.

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