U.S. to tighten COVID-19 testing rules for international travelers

Dec 03 , 2021. 7 hours ago – 02:49 KYODO NEWS

A sign promotes a COVID-19 testing location at Los Angeles International Airport on Dec. 1, 2021. (Getty/Kyodo)

WASHINGTON – The administration of President Joe Biden said Thursday it will strengthen coronavirus testing rules for those entering the United States amid concerns over the new Omicron variant, requiring international travelers to return a negative result within one day of their scheduled departure.

The new safety protocol, which will be put in place starting early next week, is part of a series of actions the administration has planned to allow the nation to navigate the ongoing pandemic without the need to shut down schools and businesses.

The announcement came amid signs of the Omicron variant seeping into the United States, with a resident in the Midwest state of Minnesota becoming the country’s latest confirmed case of the still largely unknown strain after the first case was announced Wednesday.

The Minnesota resident had a travel history to New York City, where he attended a three-day anime convention showcasing Japanese pop culture that ended Nov. 21, according to the Minnesota Health Department. He had been vaccinated and developed mild symptoms on Nov. 22 before seeking COVID-19 testing on Nov. 24.

As safety measures for air travel to the United States, non-U.S. citizens and those without residency rights are currently required to be fully vaccinated in addition to a requirement of testing negative for the coronavirus within three days before boarding a flight.

For those who are not fully vaccinated and meet the criteria for an exception, such as citizens coming from a foreign country with limited vaccine availability, a negative COVID-19 test result is needed no more than one day before travel.

The new rules, however, will require all inbound international travelers to return a negative test within one day of departure globally, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, according to the U.S. government.

“This tighter testing timeline provides an added degree of public health protection as scientists continue to assess the Omicron variant,” it added.

Mask-wearing will also continue to be required during international flights and other travel on public transport, as well as in transportation hubs such as airports or indoor bus terminals through March 18, according to the government.

Those who do not comply with the mask requirements will face a minimum fine of $500 which can increase to $3,000 for repeat offenders.

The Biden administration also vowed to ramp up efforts to expand the availability of booster shots for additional protection for adults who have already received a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine or both shots of a two-dose inoculation, while expanding free at-home testing.

On Wednesday, U.S. health authorities said they had detected the first case of the Omicron variant in the country from an individual in California who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22.

The United States has implemented a ban on the entry of foreign travelers from eight countries in southern Africa, after South Africa became among the first to report the strain, labeled a concern by the World Health Organization, last week.