The US is strengthening testing requirements for inbound visitors and expanding the mask mandate to all domestic flights as part of the measures to tackle the new threat posed by the Omicron variant.
Beginning “as early next week” foreign tourists, regardless of their vaccination status, will be required to submit a negative COVID-19 test taken within -only- 24 hours of departure.
“Our doctors believe tightening testing requirements for pre-departure will help catch more cases, potential cases of people who may be positive and inside the country,” a senior administration official said.
“And so now is the right time to do it. And we can implement it very quickly.”
American travelers will also see the impacts of the new package of restrictions. The mask mandate that was due to expire on Jan. 18 has been extended through March 22.
It now covers all passengers on domestic flights as well as buses, trains, cruise ships, and transportation hubs including indoor bus terminals and airports.
The Transportation Security Administration announced on Thursday that fines for travelers who refuse to comply with a federal mask regulation will be doubled.
The minimum fine will now be $500, with repeat offenders facing fines of up to $3,000.
The United States was one of the countries that acted quickly against the new highly mutated coronavirus strain.
On Nov. 27, it canceled all travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
Unfortunately, three days later the country recorded its first omicron case from a fully vaccinated traveler who arrived in California from South Africa on Nov. 22.
All these restrictions take effect only three weeks after the United States ended a 19-month ban on travelers from the European Union, most Asian countries and even South Africa.
For the time being, the president has stated his administration will be working with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson on contingency plans for extra vaccines or boosters designed to protect citizens against this or other variants.