US tightens COVID-19 testing rules for incoming travelers due to Omicron

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The United States has shortened the time period for incoming international travelers to take a COVID-19 test in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant.  

Previously, incoming travelers had to test negatively three days before their departure. That has now been shortened to one day, and applies to all incoming travelers, regardless of nationality of vaccination status.  

“This tighter testing timeline provides an added degree of protection as scientists continue to study the Omicron variant,” US President Joe Biden said at a briefing on December 2, 2021.  

The White House also said masks will need to be worn on aircraft and other forms of public transportation until March 18, 2022.  

The tightened travel restrictions came as part of a winter package of COVID-19 measures set out by the White House. 

After over 600 days of restrictions, the United States opened its borders to fully-vaccinated travelers from a range of countries on November 8, 2021. The move brought some welcome relief for European long-haul airlines for whom the transatlantic is a lucrative source of revenues. 

However, the emergence of the Omicron variant has already prompted some countries to close their border. The United States is one of those restricting travel from southern Africa, where the new variant was first identified. 

“But while we know that travel restrictions can slow the spread of Omicron, they cannot prevent it.  But it does give us a little more time to take more precautions at home to prepare,” Biden said during the briefing.  

The new variant comes as many airlines were reporting a recovery of travel demand over the last few months. The president of Emirates Airline has warned Omicron could bring “significant traumas” for the aviation industry if it results in a lost December or winter.  


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