Air travelers entering the United States are set to face tougher COVID-19 testing requirements following the discovery of the Omicron coronavirus variant, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed Tuesday.
U.S. citizens and foreign nationals arriving in the United States will soon be required to present a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure, a change from the current three days allowed for vaccinated travelers. A CDC spokeswoman confirmed to Reuters that the agency is working to modify its global testing rules for travel.
“As we learn more about the Omicron variant; a revised order would shorten the timeline for required testing for all international air travelers to one day before departure to the United States,” the spokesperson said.
The administration is also reportedly considering whether to require air travelers to get a second COVID-19 test within three to five days after arrival in the United States. The CDC did not provide a timeline for when the change would take effect but Reuters reports they could take effect as early as Thursday.
Currently, vaccinated international air travelers age two and above are required to present a negative COVID-19 viral test result obtained no more than three days from their point of departure. Meanwhile, unvaccinated travelers currently must get a negative COVID-19 test within one day of arrival.
Nearly all foreign nationals must be vaccinated to enter the United States. Travelers are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they have received a dose of an accepted single-dose vaccine or two weeks after they have received a second dose of an accepted 2-dose series vaccine.
As per the CDC, travelers are also considered fully vaccinated two weeks after they have completed the full series of an accepted COVID-19 vaccine in a clinical trial, two weeks after they have received the full series of a Novavax (or Covovax) COVID-19 vaccine in phase 3 clinical trial, or 14 days after they have received two doses of any “mix-and-match” combination of vaccines that were administered at least 17 days apart.
Travelers who don’t meet these requirements, will not be considered fully vaccinated.
The Epoch Times has contacted a CDC spokesperson for comment.
The potential testing change for arrivals into the United States comes after CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters Tuesday that the CDC is evaluating whether to change its policy by having travelers test for COVID-19 closer to their departure date.
Walensky also said the agency is weighing up implementing “additional post-arrival testing and quarantine” measures and is working with airlines to obtain information on passengers for contact tracing should the need arise.
“Based on the data … the medical team will make a recommendation on any changes to international travel policy,” Jeff Zients, President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator, told reporters.
The CDC is also expanding its surveillance at four major international airports in a bid to determine whether Omicron is present in travelers into the United States, Walensky said. The surveillance measures will be implemented at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, and San Francisco International Airport.
“This program allows for increased COVID testing for specific international arrivals,” Walensky continued, “increasing our capacity to identify those with COVID-19 on arrival to the United States and enhancing our surveillance for the Omicron variant.”
Already, the United States has imposed travel restrictions on eight southern African nations due to the Omicron variant, which was first discovered in South Africa and Botswana earlier this month. Those restrictions went into effect starting Monday at 12:01 a.m.
There is growing concern among scientists about what Omicron’s impact might be, given that it has an unusual combination of mutations and may be able to evade immune responses or be more transmissible.
Jack Phillips and Reuters contributed to this report.