Starting today (Dec. 6), fully vaccinated international air travellers flying to the United States must obtain a negative COVID-19 viral test within one day of travel.
The new travel rule, which the White House announced last week, kicked in at 12:01 a.m. ET, and replaces the previous requirement of having to present a negative COVID test obtained within three days of departure.
The one-day-before window applies to all travellers, regardless of citizenship or vaccination status, aged two and older, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The tighter testing timeline “provides an added degree of public health protection as scientists continue to assess the Omicron variant,” the White House said in a factsheet released last Thursday (Dec. 2).
The order does not require COVID-19 testing requirements for international travellers crossing U.S. land borders with Canada or Mexico.
Last week, ahead of the new rule kicking in, Air Canada issued a reminder about its partnership with Switch Health, a Canadian-based healthcare company that has developed portable self-administered COVID-19 molecular and antigen test kits.
"If you’re travelling to the U.S., Air Canada and Switch Health have antigen tests available to customers that they can purchase immediately and can be self-administered from the comfort of their home within one day of departure and results are given within 45 minutes of taking the test," the airline said in a news release.
Those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 can instead travel with documentation of recovery from COVID-19, the CDC says.
These travellers may present a positive COVID-19 viral test result on a sample taken no more than 90 days before the flight’s departure from a foreign country and a letter from a licensed healthcare provider or a public health official confirming travel clearance.
Last week, the Biden administration also extended its federal rule requiring passengers on planes, trains and buses to wear face masks through March 18, 2022.
One day does not mean 24 hours
In regards to America's new testing rule, it should be noted that “no more than one day before” does not necessarily mean 24 hours.
“The one-day period is one day before the flight’s departure,” clarifies the CDC on its website, saying that it uses a one-day time frame instead of 24 hours “to provide more flexibility to the air passenger and aircraft operator.’
“By using a 1-day window, test acceptability does not depend on the time of the flight or the time of day that the test sample was taken,” the CDC writes.
For example: if your flight is at 1 p.m. on a Friday, you could board with a negative test that was taken any time on the prior Thursday.
The CDC advises that travellers also have the option of getting tested en route during a connection.
“However, you should consider where in the connecting airport testing is available and if you would be able to access it while in transit,” the CDC notes. “If you choose this strategy and are unable to get a test en route, you will not be able to board your flight to the United States.”
In addition, travellers that test positive en route will not be allowed to continue their travel and “may need to stay at that location until you end isolation,” the CDC warns.
The CDC is expected to give airlines a three-day grace period to allow for some travellers to return to the U.S. with tests taken outside of the one-day window, according to sources who spoke to Reuters.
It's been just shy of a month since the U.S. lifted its restrictions on fully vaccinated non-essential travellers seeking to enter the country by land from Canada and Mexico.
Last month, on Nov. 8, the U.S. also eased its international travel rules, putting an end to bans on specific countries.
Last week, White House officials announced that it would bar nearly all foreign nationals from entering the United States from eight southern African countries over fears of the spread of the Omicron variant.
The U.S. administration, notably, has not extended those travel restrictions to other countries where the new variant has been discovered.
The newly-discovered Omicron variant has spread to about one-third of U.S. states, but the Delta version still accounts for the majority of COVID-19 infections in the country, U.S. health officials said on Sunday.
Over the weekend, Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, said it was too soon to know the full consequences of the new COVID-19 strain, which is still being studied by scientists.
He was, however, optimistic about the initial data.
“We really gotta be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or really doesn’t cause any severe illness comparable to Delta, but thus far the signals are a bit encouraging,” Dr. Fauci told CNN on Sunday (Dec. 5). “It does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it.”