US changes pre-departure test requirements

All foreign air passengers must do their COVID-19 test 24 hours before departure

WASHINGTON, DC

The United States is tightening pre-departure testing requirements for all foreign travellers entering the country in response to rising concerns about the spread of the omicron COVID-19 variant first reported to the WHO by South Africa a week ago.

As per the changes announced on Thursday, all in-bound international passengers will have to test for the coronavirus within 24 hours of departure. Previously, the US required proof of a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours of departure. Unvaccinated travelers, however, still had to have a negative Covid test within one day of departure.

The tightened pre-departure testing protocols will apply to all in-bound international travelers regardless of vaccination status and will begin next week, senior administration officials told reporters during a press call late Wednesday. 

The White House background briefing on the plan made no mention of land borders, or whether fully vaccinated Canadians who drive south would be required to show a test result.

At least 23 countries including Canada and India have identified omicron cases so far. The US joined that list after confirming its first case of the variant in Northern California on Wednesday. 

Last week, President Joe Biden ordered precautionary air travel restrictions for South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. He did not indicate how long the bans, which took effect Monday, will remain in place. 

Those restrictions came into effect three weeks after the US lifted a blanket ban on visitors from more than 30 countries, including the U.K., India, Brazil and South Africa, replacing them with vaccination requirements for tourists.

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