The Biden administration is vowing tough enforcement of new safety measures it is imposing on travelers to curb the spread of the coronavirus even as some in the travel indusry say elements of the plan will be difficult to police.

In an executive order issued Thursday, President Joe Biden required masks be worn in airports, planes, intercity buses and other forms of transportation. The president is also ordering people who arrive in the U.S. from other countries to self-quarantine, which had previously been unenforced guidance.

“We are prepared to make sure we use all relevant authorities to enforce the president’s executive order to ensure across every mode of transportation workers, passengers, commuters are protected,” Pete Buttigieg, the nominee to become secretary of transportation, told lawmakers Thursday during a hearing on his confirmation.

On a day spent focused on Covid-19, Biden also codified an action by former President Donald Trump on Jan. 12 to require a negative Covid-19 test before flying to the U.S. from other nations, according to a Biden administration fact sheet. The order will be coupled with one requiring masks on federal properties that was signed by Biden on Wednesday.

The mask requirement takes effect “immediately,” or as soon as agencies can enact it, the order said. It also directs the secretary of Homeland Security to “promptly” develop a plan for a self-quarantine requirement. But it’s vague about how this will be enforced and doesn’t detail any penalties that will be imposed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has broad legal authority to impose both mask-wearing mandates for most travel and requirements that international travelers isolate after arriving in the U.S., said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University Law School.

“I think there is political will,” said Gostin, who has been in contact with members of the incoming administration. The issue of wearing masks has become politicized and may face some resistance, “but ultimately most Americans will follow the rule of law.”

While a government rule for mask usage could be enforced under existing laws, ensuring that tens of thousands of people isolate after international travel will be a near-impossible task, said the leader of a travel advocacy group.

“I don’t know how in the world we are ever going to enforce that,” said Charles Leocha, president of Travelers United Inc. “I’m really interested in seeing how we are going to come up with an effective quarantine program. It’s not like New Zealand, where they only have two airports and very limited flights.”

The order contains no information on how violators of a mask requirement or other mandates could be punished. Agencies have the legal power to adopt fines or criminal penalties for such violations and some regulations, such as those governing airline passengers, may already apply.

Tests, Quarantines
While the order allows the government to craft exemptions for travelers arriving from countries that don’t have the capacity to conduct Covid-19 testing, other measures — such as additional quarantines — may be allowed to substitute for tests.

Under Biden’s order, federal agencies have to determine within 14 days the type of testing required for visitors to the U.S. and how travelers should document their tests. Agencies including the Homeland Security Department are directed to study whether measures should also be imposed on those traveling into the U.S. on the ground via Mexico and Canada.

All U.S. carriers currently have some kind of requirement that passengers cover their faces, as do many airports and transit systems, but enforcement has at times been spotty. Airlines, for example, have limited remedies, such as refusing to allow customers to board future flights.

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