WASHINGTON — By early next week, Canadians and all other foreign visitors who travel to the U.S. by air will need to get a COVID-19 test no later than the day before their departure.
U.S. President Joe Biden is narrowing the current 72-hour testing window for fully vaccinated travellers as part of a suite of public health measures aimed at slowing the spread of the highly mutated omicron variant.
A White House background briefing on the plan late Wednesday made no mention of land borders, or whether fully vaccinated Canadians who drive south would be required to show a test result.
The rise of omicron marks only the latest twist in the long road back to some semblance of normality for people who routinely travel back and forth between the two countries.
It’s been less than 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.
Canada, meanwhile, has for now exempted U.S. visitors from its stringent new rules, which require all other foreign air travellers to get tested upon arrival and self-isolate while awaiting the results.
Currently, the U.S. requires fully vaccinated visitors who are arriving by air from Canada to get tested no more than 72 hours before departure, while those crossing by land need no test at all.
Canada, which began allowing fully vaccinated U.S. citizens to enter the country back in September, continues to require everyone who’s had a full course of a COVID-19 vaccine, including Canadians, to also provide proof of a recent negative COVID test.
The government has so far remained silent on whether it expects the exemption for air passengers from the U.S. to change before Monday.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the government would consult with provinces and territories on whether to impose similar measures on visitors from the U.S., but Transport Minister Omar Alghabra refused to say Wednesday whether a decision on that issue was imminent.
Meanwhile the U.S. recorded its first confirmed case of the omicron variant Wednesday, in a vaccinated traveller who returned to California after a trip to South Africa.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious-disease expert, announced the finding at the White House. “We knew it was just a matter of time before the first case of omicron would be detected in the United States,” he said.
The infected person was identified as a traveller who had returned from South Africa on Nov. 22, developed mild symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19 Monday.
The person, who had had the full two doses of the Moderna vaccine and wasn’t yet due for a booster shot, is improving, California officials said.
The mild nature of the California person’s infection “is a testimony to the importance of the vaccinations,” said California Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.
With file from The Associated Press