The emergence of COVID variant Omicron has triggered fresh rules for air travel across the world. While not keen to shut down airports — as was done when the pandemic first took off — governments now are imposing stringent rules to curb its spread.
The US, to which Indians have been flying in droves in recent months, has also imposed new rules that have begun to take effect this week. These apply to holders of US visas across all categories — such as work, tourist and student — as well as its own citizens heading back home. Fully vaccinated travellers are also not exempt from these rules.
COVID test report
Foremost among the norms is proof of a negative COVID test taken within a day of departure. This needs to be furbished ahead of boarding the flight. “Exemptions will be considered on an extremely limited basis,” says the website of the US embassy in India. Earlier, vaccinated visitors, permanent residents and citizens were allowed to show results of tests taken up to three days before departure. Now, the 24-hour rule applies to all.
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The American health protection agency Centers for Disease Control (CDC) allows both antigen and nucleic acid amplification tests (NAAT), including PCR.
While India mandates testing for inbound travellers from certain regions at its airports, the US doesn’t. So, those travelling there need not allot time and money for COVID tests at the destination point.
Voluntary testing at airports
Yet, the CDC does offer test facilities to travellers at select airports — these can be voluntarily taken on reaching the US. There are two options here —at-home tests for which kits can be collected, and RT-PCR tests at the airport itself.
This scheme is available at the John F Kennedy International Airport in New York, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and San Francisco International Airport. Supporting the scheme are XpresSpa Group and Ginkgo Bioworks.
If travel appears unsafe in the light of the Omicron scare, passengers can postpone their travel, but the charges involved are entirely at the discretion of the airline — the US government has not given guidelines in this regard.