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What Are the New COVID Testing Rules for International Travelers to the U.S.?

PHOTO: Ringo Chiu

Mask mandate to be extended till March.

A highly mutated variant of the coronavirus, Omicron was declared a variant of concern by the WHO. It was first detected in South Africa and has spread to more than 30 countries. As a measure to control its transmission, the U.S. banned non-citizens from eight African countries: South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi last week. Many countries around the world had the same reaction to the newest threat to global health, which southern African countries called discriminatory and ineffectual.

Now the U.S. is changing its testing requirements for all international travelers.

New Travel Rules

To enter the U.S., travelers—regardless of their vaccination status or citizenship—need a COVID-19 negative test result performed within a day of departure. The country previously required passengers to get tested within three days of departure. This order comes into effect on December 6, 2021.

“All air passengers 2 years or older with a flight departing to the U.S. from a foreign country at or after 12:01am EST (5:01am GMT) on December 6, 2021, are required to show a negative COVID-19 viral test result taken no more than 1 day before travel, or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 in the past 90 days, before they board their flight.”

Those who have recovered can show proof of recovery documents.

President Biden has also announced that the federal mask mandate will be extended till March 18. This is the third extension to the divisive order that requires people to cover up on planes, trains, buses, airports, taxis, ride-shares, and indoor areas of transportation hubs. Those who don’t comply with the order can be fined.

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Airlines have witnessed major tussles over mask requirements with passengers refusing to wear masks. All year, the TSA has levied heavy fines on unruly passengers for mask-related disruptions.

Cases in the U.S.

The U.S. reported its first case of the Omicron variant on December 1 in a fully vaccinated California resident who recently returned from South Africa. A day later, New York reported at least five cases of Omicron variant and it was also detected in Minnesota, Hawaii, and Colorado. It was only a matter of time, the White House statement said after the first case came to light. It added, “We are prepared to meet this challenge with science and speed.” 

Last week, New York strongly advised people to wear masks indoors at all times regardless of vaccination status. President Biden and his Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci have both underlined the importance of vaccines and urged Americans to get booster shots as soon as they’re eligible. 

President Biden appealed to Americans to not panic. The severity of the variant is still being studied by scientists around the world and it will take a few more weeks to determine if it can evade immunity.

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