US tightens COVID-19 measures over omicron variant concerns, stricter testing protocols for inbound international travelers


US President Joe Biden has announced new requirements for international travelers coming to the US, including both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Inbound travelers coming to the US will have to be tested for COVID-19 within a day before their flight to the US, regardless of vaccination status, rather than three days before travel mandate, currently required for vaccinated travelers, President Biden said on Thursday.
“We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” Biden said, speaking at the National Institutes of Health medical research facility in Maryland.

The new testing rules will apply both to US citizens and foreign nationals flying into the country and are expected to take effect early next week, the White House said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman, Jason McDonald, said that requiring a negative test within a day of departure, instead of three days, would strengthen the United States’ “already robust protocols” for international travelers, including a requirement that they are fully vaccinated.

The administration has also expanded surveillance at four of the busiest US airports: New York’s John F. Kennedy airport; Newark, New Jersey, San Francisco and Atlanta.

Hours after the third known US case of community transmission of the variant was reported, the US administration laid down its plan to extend mask mandate over domestic travel from previously decided January to mid-March.

President Joe Biden also laid out his strategy to fight the coronavirus that includes hundreds of vaccination sites aimed at families, boosters for all adults, new testing requirements for international travelers and free at-home tests that will be covered by private insurers or available at community health centers.

“We have the best tools, the best vaccines in the world, and the best medicine and the best scientists in the world,” he said. “As a result, we enter this winter from a position of strength compared to where America was last winter.”

The government will require private health insurers to reimburse their 150 million customers for 100% of the cost of over-the-counter, at-home COVID-19 tests, administration officials said, and make 50 million more tests available free through rural clinics and health centers for the uninsured.

Other administration actions include discussions with South African scientists to learn more about the severity and transmission rate of the variant, as well as outreach to vaccine makers and academic labs involved in any possible development of new tests, vaccines, and treatments, senior administration officials said.

President Biden said the US will also expedite the delivery of vaccines overseas, with plans to ship 200 million doses to countries in need in the next 100 days.

The Biden administration has pledged to share a total of 1.2 billion doses globally, though in the wake of the new variant some public-health advocates have renewed criticism of the US and other wealthy nations for administering boosters when developing countries still lack vaccine access.

Approximately 63 percent of the US population eligible for vaccines – or some 197 million people – are considered fully vaccinated, according to data from the US CDC. Forty-two million, or nearly 23 percent, have received booster jabs.