U.S. Tightens Travel Test and Mask Requirements

us tightens travel testing requirements

The U.S. is tightening travel rules to and within the country, requiring all inbound international travelers to undergo a COVID test within 24 hours of departure. Additionally, the mask requirement for all domestic flights and public transportation has been extended through March 18, 2022.

The measures announced form part of a wider plan to bolster the country's ongoing fight against COVID-19, in particular given the recent uptick in cases following the detection of the newest Omicron variant. To date, at least 23 countries have identified and reported cases, and the World Health Organization (WHO) expects that number to rise in the coming days and weeks.

What the New U.S. Travel Requirements Mean

The stricter pre-departure testing requirements apply to all international inbound air travelers, regardless of vaccination status. According to senior White House officials, they will come into effect as early as next week. Previously, to enter the United States travelers had to show proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of their departure. However, this applied only to vaccinated travelers; unvaccinated travelers were always required to have a negative test result taken within one day of their departure.

The mask mandate was set to expire in January, but has been extended through the middle of March. It requires masking while inside all transportation hubs such as airports and bus terminals, as well as while using transit such as buses, trains, and planes. The cost of the fine for noncompliance has been doubled and starts at $500, going up to $3,000 for repeat offenders.

"While this new variant is a cause for concern, it is not a cause for panic," the senior White House official said. "We have the tools we need to confront this variant and keep making progress in our fight against the virus."

Last week, U.S. President Biden ordered precautionary air travel restrictions for South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. It wan't indicated how long the bans will remain in place.

The new restrictions came into effect three weeks after the U.S. 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. Other countries implemented new travel restrictions last week, in an attempt to stave off the spread of the new variant.

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