Airports and the new coronavirus test rule: How will it work?

The US will begin to require proof of negative COVID-19 tests from incoming international travelers starting Jan. 26. Here's a closer look at what the new regulations will mean for travelers.

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Image: iStock/rosshelen

As the public health crisis caused by COVID-19 is a growing problem across the globe, many countries are continuing to enact restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus. In the US, the latest restriction will go into effect on Tuesday, Jan. 26—it will require all international travelers entering the country to show proof of a negative test upon entry.

The new guidelines, set forth by the CDC, are a result of discussions among US federal agencies and the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and are aimed at limiting the risk of the spread of the virus from air travel. While airlines now have put many measures into place to cut down the chance of the virus spreading, such as requiring masks, cutting down on the number of booked seats, and changing boarding procedures, the threats caused by the new strain of the virus has caused fresh concerns among experts and health professionals. The move to test all international travelers comes on the heels of a recent requirement for testing of UK travelers into the US.

According to the new rules, travelers entering the US from abroad, both American and international citizens, must be tested within three days of flying. And airlines must deny boarding to anyone who cannot prove that they are negative for COVID-19. The exception for the new rule is airline crew, military personnel, and passengers under two years old.

SEE: How to stay cybersecure while traveling for business: 6 tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The new rule is likely to create some challenges for airline personnel and passengers, as they must deal with how to implement it. Which kinds of tests will be accepted, for instance? (According to the rules, airlines can accept both PCR and rapid antigen tests, although some states require specific types of testing.) What about paperwork in different languages? And how to handle the extra customer service that will likely be required as fliers will likely have more questions and concerns about the process?

The US currently has banned travel from Europe, the UK, China, and Brazil for non-US citizens, but these specific restrictions are deemed to be not sufficient and may not constitute a strategic approach to stopping the spread of the virus.

Gustavo Gomez, CEO of the software company Bizagi, told TechRepublic about a new global "passport" called CoronaPass that his company has developed as a solution to streamline the complicated process of validating documentation.

While international air travel has markedly decreased from a year ago, the post-holiday surge of COVID-19 still has health experts worried, and travel has still risen dramatically from where it was six months ago: From June to November, six times as many people were flying. And with the new regulations, Gomez believes that the queues at airports are about to become "enormous." 

The language around the regulations is frequently changing, Gomez stressed. "You need a robust system to validate your documents," he said. Bizagi's solution, he said, offers a way for business travelers to validate authenticity while complying with government regulations and policies that "change from one day to the next." 

And with no end in sight—it's possible that travel regulations may later include documentation of vaccination— the CoronaPass is one way travelers and companies can ensure that the proper steps are taken to comply with rules and minimize the risk of spreading the virus, he said.

The bottom line? Avoid travel if possible, but if you must, here are some of TechRepublic's tips to stay safe while flying during COVID-19.

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