The CDC Tightens Entry Requirements for Travelers Returning to the U.S.

The new measures are purportedly in response to the new Omicron variant.

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The US will soon require that all vaccinated travelers entering the country by airplane receive a negative COVID-19 test within one day of their flight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Tuesday, November 30, that the policy would change from requiring a negative test within three days of departure to one day, according to Reuters.

Right now, nearly all non-US citizens are required to be fully vaccinated before being allowed to enter the country with very few exceptions, including medical reasons. Soon, unvaccinated travelers may only be permitted to enter the country if they can present a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of arriving in the US. 

The new one-day requirement will apply to all travelers into the country, including both vaccinated and unvaccinated US citizens.

The change is in response to the newly discovered Omicron variant, which is considered to be a more contagious form of COVID-19, per Reuters. The new protocol could go into effect as soon as Thursday, December 2, though the CDC has not yet confirmed this. Getting a COVID-19 test three to five days after arrival may also become a requirement, but this has also not been confirmed by the CDC.

On Tuesday, the CDC also released a new directive instructing airlines to share contact information for passengers arriving in the US from eight countries in Africa. Any travelers who have been in the Republic of Botswana, the Kingdom of Eswatini, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Republic of Malawi, the Republic of Mozambique, the Republic of Namibia, the Republic of South Africa, and the Republic of Zimbabwe within 14 days of entering the US will be affected by this new mandate.

Three airlines, Delta, United, and American, have already released statements announcing that they will comply with the directive, called the Contact Information Collection Order. The directive was originally issued on October 25, 2021, but while it mandated that airlines should collect information from passengers before boarding and keep it on file for 30 days, it didn't require this information to be turned in to the CDC. 

It is important to note that while the CDC has focused on these southern African countries, according to Reuters the Omicron variant was discovered in Europe a week before South African scientists identified it. The evidence that the Omicron variant was in Europe before it was in Africa has drawn criticism towards the global travel bans put in place on the African countries, per NPR. 

The World Health Organization stated that increased screening, tracing, and testing at borders is suggested, but cautioned against the efficacy of travel bans.

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Opheli Garcia Lawler is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @opheligarcia and Instagram @opheligarcia.