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Given the discovery of the new SARS-CoV-2 strain called Omicron in South Africa recently, the US government has instituted new travel restrictions set to take place immediately before the Christmas travel season. Here’s what you should know about the latest COVID-19 travel restrictions as of Monday, Dec. 13th. 

New Rules For Inbound International Travelers
The White House announced last week that it plans to “tighten pre-departure testing protocols by requiring all inbound international travelers to test within one day of departure globally, regardless of nationality or vaccination status.”

That means even vaccinated travelers must receive a negative PCR test at least 24 hours in advance of their flight, a departure from the previous protocol of 72 hours (3 days). 

Why the New Travel Restrictions?
According to officials, the new travel restrictions are intended to curb the spread of Omicron and give some buffer time for public health experts to figure out how deadly and/or contagious this new variant is compared with the Delta and other previous variants. The move is part of what the Biden administration has coined the “COVID-19 Winter Plan.” 

Vaccine Passports For Domestic Travel?
Despite chatter in the media about looming vaccine passports that may become necessary for domestic air travel, the Biden administration waved away concerns that these changes will take effect in the immediate future. 

In a public address, Biden said that “the measures that I announced yesterday [in reference to the international travel restrictions we described above] are — we believe are sufficient to deal with the proper medical precautions to deal with the spread of this new variant.”

However, despite not instituting new vaccine passport requirements for domestic travel yet, Biden emphasized that the federal government will continue to require travelers to remain fully masked on public transportation – including planes and trains. 

Potential Pushback Against New Restrictions
The COVID-19 public health measures have been and remain contentious political issues. Republicans have claimed that these requirements – such as masking and travel restrictions – harm the American tradition of individual liberty as well as jeopardize the economy, which is already fragile after lockdowns on and off for nearly two years. 

However, the Biden administration and his public health officials insist that the measures are necessary to protect the safety of the public and save lives.