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U.S. will implement tighter protocols for international travel next week

The White House announced on Thursday via a fact sheet posted on its website that the U.S. would strengthen testing protocols for incoming international travelers, regardless of citizenship status, vaccination status and regardless of the country of origin.

Starting "early next week," according to the release, all international travelers will be required to present proof of a negative test taken within one day of travel. The current requirement designates a three-day testing window, which leaves a longer time period for would-be travelers to contract the virus prior to travel but without developing symptoms.

The Biden administration also has extended through March 18 the federal mask mandate for air, rail and public transportation. The Transportation Security Administration will continue its implementing orders through the same date. The minimum fine for noncompliance is $500 and increases to $3,000 for repeat offenders.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, federal officials were considering the possibility of a seven-day quarantine period and post-arrival testing requirement for international travelers, regardless of citizenship status or vaccination status.

The group said they pushed back on such proposals, citing the devastating impact on the U.S. travel industry specifically, but also on the broader U.S. economy. The group estimated the U.S. has lost $300 billion in export income since the start of the pandemic.

The omicron variant now detected in California was discovered in a fully vaccinated individual who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive for Covid-19 on Nov. 29. The variant has now been identified in 29 countries, including South Africa where it was originally sequenced as a variant, but also in the U.K. and several European countries as well as a handful of Asia-Pacific destinations like Australia, Hong Kong and Japan.

In addition to new travel measures, the Biden administration will roll out additional programs and campaigns to increase vaccination rates across the U.S., including boosters, and providing "every resource" to the Federal Drug Administration to expedite review of vaccines for children under 5 years old, according to the release. It will also make testing more available through local pharmacies and provide more free testing kits and resources, including insurance reimbursement for over-the-counter testing kits.

President Biden on Thursday is expected to urge businesses to continue with their vaccination and testing efforts.

The White House claims that "60% of businesses report they are moving forward with implementing a program to ensure their workers are either vaccinated or tested on a weekly basis" roughly using the roadmap outlined by the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The release did not mention OSHA by name, as 25 states have sued the federal government for OSHA overreach over the vaccination-or-test protocol it rolled out in early November.

The mandate is currently suspended as the lawsuits are argued in court, though many businesses nevertheless have chosen to follow through on the protocol.

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