Air travellers to the United States will face tougher Covid-19 testing rules, as several countries moved to seal-off their borders amid heightened uncertainty around the virulence of the Omicron variant and its ability to dodge existing vaccines.
The United States is moving to require that all air travellers entering the country show a negative Covid-19 test performed within one day of departure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday.
Currently, vaccinated international travellers can present a negative result obtained within three days from their point of departure. The new one-day testing requirement would apply to U.S. citizens as well as foreign nationals.
The administration is also considering whether to require air travellers to get another test within three to five days after arrival, officials said.
While the CDC did not confirm that, it noted it continues to recommend all “travellers should get a Covid-19 viral test 3-5 days after arrival” and “post-travel quarantine for any unvaccinated travellers”.
The CDC lists about 80 foreign destinations as having “Level Four”, its highest level of Covid-19 transmission, and discourages Americans from travelling to those destinations.
In Asia, Japan, which had already shut its borders to all newly entering foreigners, said it would expand its ban to foreigners with resident status from 10 African countries including South Africa.
Hong Kong will expand its entry ban for non-residents to three more countries, Japan, Portugal and Sweden, from Friday.
South Korean Interior and Safety Minister Jeon Hae-cheol called for tighter virus prevention measures to head off Omicron, after suspected cases entered from Nigeria.
The country, which reported a daily record of over 5,000 COVID-19 cases, has not detected any confirmed cases of the Omicron variant so far.
Global airlines are preparing for fresh volatility, analysts said, as Omicron could force them to adjust schedules and destinations at short notice.
“It feels a little bit like we are back to where we were a year ago and that’s not a great prospect for the industry and beyond,” Deidre Fulton, a partner at consultancy MIDAS Aviation, said at an industry webinar.