All air travelers to the United States aged two and older are now required to show a negative COVID-19 test result taken within one day of their departure to be allowed into the country. The new policy was put in place by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on December 3 and went into effect on Monday, December 6.
It applies to all air travelers to the United States, including U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and foreign nationals alike.
Foreign nationals traveling to the United States, with only limited exceptions, must also be fully-vaccinated and provide proof of vaccination status prior to boarding their flight to the United States.
There has been confusion about what fully vaccinated means and whether vaccines from Russia or China qualify under the new travel requirements.
“The tighter testing timeline provides an added degree of public health – public health protection as scientists continue to assess the Omicron variant,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at a news conference in Washington DC on Monday.
“President Biden has promised to take every measure necessary to keep the American people safe and to defeat the pandemic, and these are steps recommended by U.S. Government medical experts and the COVID-19 Response Team,” Price added.
In a December 3 statement, the CDC revised its Global Testing Order to shorten the timeline for required testing for all international air travelers to one day before departure to the United States.
It said the revision “strengthens already robust protocols in place for international travel, including requirements for foreign travelers to be fully vaccinated.”
The CDC added, “As we learn more about the Omicron variant, this new one-day testing policy will help to protect travelers and the health and safety of American communities from COVID-19. These Orders put in place a stringent and consistent global international travel policy that is guided by public health.
“Today’s announcement means that beginning December 6, all air travelers, regardless of citizenship or vaccination status, will be to be required to show a negative pre-departure COVID-19 viral test taken the day before they board their flight to the United States. For example, a passenger whose flight to the United States is at any time on a Sunday would need to have a negative test taken at any time on Saturday.
“CDC continues to recommend that all travelers get a COVID-19 viral test 3-5 days after arrival, and that unvaccinated travelers should quarantine for 7 days after travel.
“Both the U.S. Government and the airline industry are committed to making this process as seamless as possible for the traveling public. These travel requirements will be effective for air travel to the United States from any foreign country departing at or after 12:01AM ET on December 6, 2021.”
And although the COVID-19 virus seems to be spreading faster than ever in South Africa, early indications suggest that Omicron may cause less severe illness than other forms of the virus.
At a major hospital in Pretoria for instance, researchers reported that their patients with the coronavirus are much less sick than those they have treated in the past. It is not just in Pretoria, other hospitals are making the same observations. They said most of their infected patients were even admitted for other reasons and have no COVID symptoms.
Scientists have however cautioned that it may be too early to know exactly how the new variant affects the body, in terms of severity and death. But for now, it does not seem to be the gloom and doom that had been predicted in recent headlines.
At least eight African countries remain under a travel ban President Joseph R. Biden Jr. signed on November 26 citing the need to protect Americans from the Omicron variant.
The eight countries are South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Eswatini.
The White House said on Monday that the ban would be lifted when health and medical advisors recommend to the president that it should be lifted.