New US travel restrictions begin today due to omicron variant
The omicron variant has the attention of the world and it is prompting travel restrictions across it, including for people heading to the U.S.
Cases of the coronavirus variant omicron have now been identified in almost 20 states and that’s prompted federal officials to tighten air travel regulations.
Travelers heading to the U.S. will now be required to show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test within one day of boarding their flight instead of three days prior.
That new order took effect at midnight and the new rule applies to all passengers 2 years and older.
There's no requirement for post-arrival testing or quarantine.
Health officials say the tighter one-day test timetable provides an added degree of protection as scientists continue to study the omicron variant. But some travelers say it can be problematic. "We missed a flight yesterday because of her test, it came back inconclusive. And now we just missed another flight today because my test is 24 hours old," says traveler Scott Myers.
President Joe Biden is also extending the federal rule that requires passengers on planes, trains and buses to wear face masks through March. That was supposed to end in January.
In addition, any foreign national who travels to America must be fully vaccinated. The U.S. is still restricting entry to travelers from South Africa and seven other African nations. The travel ban does not apply to U.S. citizens and permanent residents returning from these countries, but they must follow the rules for re-entry.
But travel officials say those bans are being evaluated every day. "We need to figure out how to balance not only the economy and the health concerns simultaneously, but we also need to think about making sure we still welcome international travelers here to the U.S.," says Tori Emerson, of the U.S. Travel Association.
Meantime, some South Africans are criticizing the ban calling it unfair. "They don't think it's fair because the way in which it's being imposed is quite uneven and a lot of responses in the last few days really smacked in a very knee-jerk way of dealing with this pandemic. It goes against the solidarity promised to us at the beginning of this pandemic," says Fatima Hassan, Founder and Director of the Health Justice Initiative in South Africa.
According to the new federal travel rules, people who can prove they have recovered from the COVID-19 infection within the past 90 days are exempt. That requires a document of recovery.