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International Travelers Brace For New COVID Testing Requirement

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- Passengers gathered for their overseas flights at San Francisco International Sunday, wondering what additional challenges they will face when returning back to the U.S. under the new COVID-19 testing requirement.

Among them was Zohaib Valani, a college student traveling to Pakistan with family for the holidays.

"Definitely another challenge that's coming up in the way for travel," Valani said. "I know it's really hard to get (COVID testing) appointments, especially during this travel time and not only that the type of test is so crucial for airlines."

Travelers will need to get a negative test result within one calendar day of their flight back to the U.S. It can be over 24 hours, Friday morning for a Saturday evening flight for example, but should be either a PCR or rapid test with a heath professional confirming the result.

"I felt like 48 hours to 72 hours was good enough, you can go to your care provider and get tested, and wait, you have enough time to get your results before your trip," said one traveler on his way to Nigeria. "With all the new restrictions and all the new requirements, I don't know, we'll just have to take it one day at a time."

The White House announced the new restriction last week. It will take effect on Monday. The Biden administration will also extend the mask mandate on public transportation including flights into March of 2022.

"The reason we are vaccinated is so that we can travel and go to places and it will keep us safe," another passenger on his way to Nigeria told KPIX 5 on Sunday.

Business travelers hoped that by staying abroad long enough they may have more favorable testing requirements when it is time for them to return to the Bay Area. They also hoped that testing resources would improve if this tight of a window between results and departure times remain.

"It's adding a lot more stress, especially, you know, for those traveling for business like me," said Mohammad Almadani, before leaving for a flight to the U.A.E. on Sunday. "Some of those meetings, it's a lot more effective, especially the first time, in person and having these restrictions is frustrating."

The new testing requirements come after the U.S. announced travel restrictions from countries in southern Africa after the discovery of the new omicron variant. Members of the Biden administration defended the policy and did not offer a date for the ban to be lifted.

"These are meant to be temporary measures, nobody wants them to be go on for any longer than they need to be," U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthi said on CBS's "Face The Nation" Sunday morning. "That's why we're continuously reevaluating them so we can get them off as soon as it's appropriate."

Travelers were already preparing for the cost when they need to head back to the U.S., anticipating a COVID-19 test at the airport to meet the new requirement.

The White House has said insurance providers should reimburse travelers for the test, but it depends on where they get tested. Travel experts are advising insurance for trips given the uncertainty when visiting different countries.

"I think with the variant people are getting scared, so I see why they're doing this," Valani told KPIX 5. "Family is family so sometimes you just got to be there and you have to make those expenses."

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