Passengers travelling to the United States from Ireland and elsewhere will have to undergo testing for Covid-19 within one day of their departure under new measures to be introduced by the Biden administration.
The US government has said that as part of a strategy for tackling the disease this winter it will, from early next week, tighten pre-departure testing protocols which currently require all passengers to take a test within three days of travelling.
It says the stricter testing timeline will provide an added degree of public health protection as scientists continue to assess the Omicron variant.
The plan, announced on Thursday, will also see the existing requirement for passengers on aircraft and public transportation to wear masks continue until the middle of March. Fines for non-compliance with the mask requirement are to be increased to a minimum of $500, rising to up to $3,000 for repeat offenders.
Mr Biden’s administration also held out the prospect that new Covid-19 treatments which could help prevent hospitalisation and death may be on the horizon in the winter months. It promiseed that if these are approved by regulators they will be available equally to all Americans regardless of income or location.
The plan also says the government the will seek to accelerate the development and deployment of new vaccines and boosters if they are needed to deal with the Omicron variant.
It says health and medical experts believe the current vaccines authorised in the US provide at least some protection against Omicron and that boosters strengthen that protection significantly.
However, it says the adminstration wants to be prepared for all scenarios and is is taking steps now to be able to quickly act if updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to the Omicron variant.
Apart from significant moves to improve vacaination uptake and testing in the United States, the president’s plan also involves the provision of large quantities of vaccines to poorer countries.
The plan says the United States has committed to to donating 1.2 billion doses to the world. It says it will deliver 200 million more of these in the next 100 days to poorer countries. It says these doses will be provided for free with no strings attached.
It says the United States will also be the first country to negotiate a deal with manufacturer Johnson & Johnson and Covax, the global access programme for vaccines, to send them directly to humanitarian settings and conflict zones to vaccinate displaced people.
The Biden plan also commits to ramping up vaccine manufacturing capacity globally. It aims to see capacity increased by an additional one billion doses per year with production starting in the second half of next year.
It also involves the provision of Covid vaccine boosters for all adults; greater vaccination to protect children and keep schools open and the expansion of free at-home testing.