Factbox-U.S. Omicron plan: boosters, free at-home tests, tighter travel rules

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FILE PHOTO: A vial and a syringe are seen in front of a displayed United States’ flag and words “Omicron SARS-CoV-2″ in this illustration taken

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration is seeking to ramp up its pandemic response amid the official arrival of the Omicron coronavirus variant, laying out a plan on Thursday to make at-home COVID-19 tests available free of charge, accelerate its push for booster shots and tightening rules for travelers.

Below are some of the key measures in the plan, which U.S. President Joe Biden will address later on Thursday:

FREE AT-HOME, OVER-THE-COUNTER TESTS

Private health insurance companies will be required to reimburse customers for the cost of over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 tests, the White House said, with the administration issuing federal guidance by Jan. 15.

For the uninsured, at-home tests will be made available at no charge at community testing sites, it added.

At-home tests approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration include Abbott Laboratories' BinaxNOW, OraSure Technologies Inc's InteliSwab, ACON Laboratories' FlowFlex and Ellume's home test, among others.

WIDER PUSH FOR BOOSTER SHOTS

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services along with pharmacy companies will launch a public information campaign to encourage booster shots, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) revised guidance this week recommending all adults get a booster.

Pharmacies will take additional steps to increase vaccine availability, including weekend and evening hours, according to the White House.

The Medicare insurance program for those over 65 and the disabled and the Medicaid program for low-income people will also make outreach efforts to encourage shots.

TIGHTER TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS

The U.S. CDC plans to require inbound international passengers be tested for COVID-19 within one day of departure, regardless of their vaccination status, sources separately told Reuters. Mask requirements on airplanes, trains and public transportation vehicles also will continue through March 18.

The new one-day testing requirement would apply to U.S. citizens as well as foreign nationals and could take effect as early as next week.

CDC officials also have ordered airlines to disclose passenger names and other information for those who have recently been in eight southern African countries that identified early Omicron cases and will give it to local and state public health agencies, according to documents seen by Reuters.

MORE FAMILY VACCINATION CLINICS

The administration plans to launch hundreds of family vaccination clinics nationwide that will allow eligible parents, grandparents and children to get initial vaccines and booster shots with a “one-stop-shop,” the White House said.

Community health centers will host the clinics throughout December. Mobile health clinics will also be deployed across the country, starting in Washington and New Mexico, according to the plan. Retail pharmacies, including CVS Health Corp and Rite Aid Corp will also start allowing family-based appointment scheduling, the White House added.

INCREASING TREATMENT SUPPLIES

Biden will announce plans to ensure any new COVID-19 treatment pills approved by U.S. regulators will be “equitably accessible to all Americans, regardless of their income or their zip code,” the White House said.

The administration is also working to secure 13 million doses of antiviral courses, it added.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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