The US will tighten its testing requirements for inbound travelers in response to the new Omicron COVID variant. Passengers will now need to take a PCR test within 24 hours of departure, rather than the 72 hours under current rules. The changes are set to be adopted as early as next week. The US confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant in Northern California on Wednesday.
PCR tests within 24 hours of flying
Most countries worldwide with inbound testing requirements, including the US, have implemented a 72-hour pre-departure testing window. However, in response to the spread of Omicron, the US will now tighten its pre-departure testing requirements down to 24 hours.
The Biden Administration said in a statement,
“This tighter testing timeline provides an added degree of public health protection as scientists continue to assess the omicron variant. The President will announce additional steps to strengthen the safety of international travel as we face this new threat – just as we have faced those that have come before it.”
The new testing protocols will apply to all inbound passengers, regardless of vaccination or citizenship status. Presently, unvaccinated visitors to the US need to take a PCR test within 24 hours of departure, while vaccinated travelers need to take the test within 72 hours.
According to senior administration officials, the new rules will come into force as early as next week. President Joe Biden will provide further details during a visit to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Thursday.
A senior administration official said,
“Our doctors believe tightening testing requirements for pre-departure will help catch more cases, potential cases of people who may be positive and inside the country. And so now is the right time to do it. And we can implement it very quickly.”
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Mask mandate extended
The US mask mandate, which requires masks on public transport, domestic flights and travel hubs such as bus terminals and airports, was set to expire in January. The Biden Administration will now extend the mandate until March 18th. Fines for non-compliance will remain at double the initial rate, with up to $3,000 fines on the table.
The mask mandate on public transport was first introduced in February 2021 and has been repeatedly extended in the fight against COVID. The country recorded its first positive case of Omicron in Northern California yesterday. The individual arrived in California from South Africa on November 22nd and was fully vaccinated.
African travel ban will remain
Last week, the US implemented a travel ban on eight African countries to restrict the spread of Omicron. The Biden Administration offered no further updates on when the ban would be lifted.
The US will also require health insurance providers to cover the cost of at-home COVID tests. More than 150 million Americans with private insurance will qualify for reimbursement on home testing kits.
A senior administration official added,
“While this new variant is a cause for concern, it is not a cause for panic. We have the tools we need to confront this variant and keep making progress in our fight against the virus.”
The government will also distribute 50 million testing kits to rural clinics to cover those without private insurance or any health insurance at all.
Do you think tighter testing requirements will have a positive effect on public health? Let us know what you think in the comments.