US changes entry requirements due to omicron variant

(CNN) — Just when we thought US travel requirements were starting to level off, the omicron variant comes into the picture.

The dominoes began to fall rapidly after South African health authorities informed the world of the discovery of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in late November.

The Biden administration has imposed controversial travel bans on arrivals from eight southern African countries. Travelers found themselves unexpectedly stranded. And now US authorities have announced that they will tighten travel regulations again.

  • International travelers entering the country will be required to undergo a test within 24 hours before leaving for the United States.
  • Foreign travelers arriving in the United States must be fully immunized.
  • Unvaccinated Americans and lawful permanent residents can enter the country with a test taken within a day of leaving the United States.
  • All travelers must wear masks in airports, airplanes and public transport.

Things change daily and even hourly, but here are the new requirements that come into effect this Monday, December 6.

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Are the requirements for testing omicron to enter the United States changing?

Yes, according to President Joe Biden’s announcement on Thursday of new measures to curb the pandemic.
All international travelers entering the country will be required to undergo a test within 24 hours before departing for the United States.

President Joe Biden speaks about the omicron variant during a visit to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland on Thursday.
Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

This new deadline will apply to everyone, “regardless of nationality or vaccination status,” says the plan presented on the White House website.

According to the published plan, the hardening of the testing protocol will take place “early next week”.

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Currently, vaccinated travelers must be tested within three days of departure. Foreign travelers arriving in the United States must be fully immunized.

Unvaccinated Americans and lawful permanent residents can enter the country with a test taken within a day of leaving the United States. The new rule will make the testing period a day for everyone.

Biden also announced that the federal mandate requiring travelers to wear masks at airports, on planes and on other modes of public transportation, such as trains and buses, has been extended until March 18.

A COVID-19 testing center operates inside the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport on December 1.
Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Is there a testing or quarantine requirement after arrival?

No. “We are not announcing any measures on post-arrival testing and quarantine,” a senior administration official said at a press conference Wednesday evening.

“I will say… look, if additional measures are recommended, if additional measures can be implemented well and are effective, we will not hesitate to take them, but we are not taking them today,” he said. the official said, according to a White House transcript of that briefing.

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Which countries are included in the new US travel ban?

Travel bans announced on November 26 prohibit non-nationals of eight southern African countries from entering the United States. These are Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

On November 27, the CDC placed all of these countries at level 4 of “very high” risk of covid-19. (Botswana was already at Level 4 due to its caseload, more than 500 per 100,000 people in the past 28 days.)

Citizens of these countries and those of others who have traveled there within the past 14 days are not permitted to enter the United States.

Can US citizens who are already in these countries return?

If you can.

According to the White House statement, the CDC says that “citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States, certain family members, and others who meet specified exceptions, who have traveled to one of the countries listed above within the past 14 days they will be permitted to enter the United States.

Until December 2, they continue to be required to follow the current readmission rules: a negative covid-19 test result within three days of travel if fully vaccinated and within one day s they are not vaccinated.

Can US citizens still travel to banned countries?

Technically, yes.

At least two US airlines continue to fly back and forth from South Africa, for example. Delta Air Lines continues to offer Atlanta-Johannesburg service and United Airlines continues to offer Newark-Johannesburg service.

United Airlines is also resuming non-stop service between Newark and Cape Town, according to a press release from Tourism South Africa. The statement also states that “we would like to emphasize that our country remains open to all travelers who wish to visit it”.

If it is advisable to go there, that is another matter. The CDC advises against it.

New obstacles to travel may also be encountered. For example, Zimbabwe imposed a mandatory lockdown from Tuesday, November 30, and a mandatory quarantine for travellers, according to state news agency NewZiana.

Going to Southern African countries while global bans are in place may prohibit you from going to other countries. For example, the UK does not allow entry to anyone who has been to the “red list” countries, which include Angola and Zambia, in addition to the eight mentioned above, at the exception of its own returning citizens.

Argentina, Canada, Italy and other countries have also established bans, each with their own specific parameters.

What is the United States doing to detect the virus?

The CDC said it would expand omicron surveillance at four major international airports in the United States.

The CDC also confirmed to CNN on Wednesday that authorities have ordered airlines carrying passengers who have traveled to certain southern African countries to share those passengers’ contact information with the agency.

Airlines are already collecting passenger contact information under a CDC contact tracing order that has been in effect since Nov. 8.

— CNN Travel will update this article as new information becomes available and regulations change.
Wayne Chang, Kaitlan Collins, Jacqueline Howard, Pete Muntean, Megan Vazquez and Greg Wallace contributed reporting.

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