COVID-19: New testing rules for international travel begin in the United States on Monday


People arriving on international flights wait to be tested on day one of a new COVID-19 rapid test site for international passengers arriving at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on December 3, 2021 in Los Angeles.
Image credit: AFP

Washington: New COVID-19 testing rules in the United States aimed at slowing the spread of the Omicron variant will begin on Monday, when all international travelers will be required to show proof of a negative test taken within one day of their flight to the States -United.

The new requirement announced this week is part of a strategy that includes extending a mandate that people on board commercial planes and in other transportation environments wear masks, as well as extending a program offering voluntary testing for new arrivals at major US airports.

Airlines and travel industry officials said on Friday they were generally in favor of the temporary measures, seen as a way to ensure passengers’ health and confidence in flights. The new rules call on airlines to build on a test base created earlier in the pandemic.

In announcing the changes, President Joe Biden said the tighter testing schedule will provide an additional level of protection for travelers as scientists continue to study the variant. The new measures follow a decision last week to ban travel from eight southern African countries.

At least 12 cases of the Omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa last month, have been discovered in the United States, including three in Maryland on Friday.

Henry Wu, associate professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine and director of the Emory TravelWell Center, said the new testing requirement may be effective in detecting infections that may have gone unnoticed previously.

“What they’re doing is reducing the holes in the net a bit,” he said. “They will detect more cases that would have been on the plane and keep [those individuals] travel.

Carter Yang, spokesperson for the air transport group Airlines for America, said on Friday the group “strongly supports” the administration’s requirements for testing and contact tracing, as well as vaccination verification measures. .

“US airlines are fully prepared to implement the new requirement that passengers on inbound international flights submit proof of a negative test no later than one day before departure,” he said.

Other industry groups said they were in favor, but cautioned against making the requirements – especially for testing – permanent.

“We hope this measure to reduce the pre-departure testing window will be temporary until more is known about the Omicron variant,” said Tori Barnes, executive vice president of public affairs and policy from the US Travel Association, in a statement.

The impact of the new variant on travel demand is not clear. Air travel approached pre-pandemic levels during the Thanksgiving holiday, when the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 2.4 million people on the Sunday after Thanksgiving – its busiest day since the pandemic began .

George Ferguson, senior aerospace analyst, and François Duflot, senior associate analyst, both at Bloomberg Intelligence, wrote in a report released Friday that the variant threatens to dampen demand for air travel in early 2022 and possibly into ‘in spring. travel season. The virus could also prompt carriers to cut international offers, the report said.

“The outlook for airlines is deteriorating as increasing cases of delta variants combine with risks that vaccines will be less effective against the new strain of omicron,” the report said.

The new rules

Two US carriers, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, which operate flights between the United States and South Africa, have said they have no plans to cut their service. United chief executive Scott Kirby told the Financial Times this week that the variant could have a “short-term impact”, but that “the long-term forecast is no different than it was before.”

Under rules set in October as the United States prepared to lift its ban on foreign travel from 33 countries last month, travelers who had been vaccinated could be tested for the virus in those countries. three days after their departure. Others were to be tested during the day.

Airlines, which are responsible for verifying test results, say they are ready to implement the new requirements. Many have systems in place for months to validate test results and vaccine status. Several carriers have also formed partnerships with organizations that provide customers with access to testing centers.

United’s partnership with TrustAssure enables customers to find testing options that meet the requirements for entry into the United States. Customers can then access this information through United’s website or app.

American Airlines’ Ready to Fly Checklist allows customers to submit test results and immunization records, as well as personal information for contact tracing purposes. Those who have been authorized can check-in online or through the airline’s app.

Wu said the narrower testing window for travel to the United States could pose problems in some parts of the world, where access to fast and reliable testing is not the norm. The administration is trying to address those concerns, officials said.

In a White House briefing Friday, Jeffrey Zients, the administration’s coronavirus response coordinator, said the administration would continue to be flexible with its strategy to fight the virus, but said that ‘There was no timetable for when measures such as travel restrictions would be relaxed.

“As we learn more about the variant over the next few days, on all of these fronts decisions regarding travel policy changes will be based on the advice, as it always is, from our medical experts and the health, ”he said.

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