Biden approves stricter travel rules; Guam tourism will be affected

Tourists at the Guam airport. GVB has asked Adelup for help in sustaining its PCR testing program for tourists. (PNC file photo)

The Biden administration has approved new travel guidelines that would require proof of a negative COVID-19 test within one day of flying into the U.S., including for vaccinated people. Currently, those who are fully vaccinated may present a test taken within three days of boarding.

Guam officials said this is expected to adversely affect the island’s tourism industry which has still to recover from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The rule change comes as the US beefs up surveillance for the omicron variant, the first case in the U.S. of which has been identified in California. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that person traveled from South Africa, which first identified the omicron variant, last Nov. 22.

The omicron variant has since been discovered in other states — Minnesota, Colorado, and New York.

Under the current guidelines, people from other countries who are not fully vaccinated cannot travel to the U.S., while people who are fully vaccinated can as long as they provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within three days of traveling.

For unvaccinated Americans, the guidelines already required proof of a negative test within one day of traveling. The potential new rule would expand that one-day requirement to all vaccinated travelers coming into the U.S. from other countries.

According to Milton Morinaga, chairman of the Guam Visitors Bureau, the new rule requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test within one day of flying into the U.S., could prove to be a disincentive for visiting Guam and the United States as a whole.

Morinaga said this could add to the inconvenience of travelers because most testing centers would not be able to release results within one day.

If travelers demand that results be made immediately to comply with the one-day rule, Morinaga said they would have to pay extra for the expedited service.

The omicron variant has also resulted in Guam’s major tourism markets also implementing stricter rules that would adversely affect Guam’s tourism industry.

Japan, the island’s number one tourism market, has asked international airlines to stop taking new reservations for all flights arriving in Japan until the end of December as the country further tightens its border controls against the new omicron coronavirus variant.

More importantly, the government is also requiring Japanese citizens arriving in the country to quarantine for up to 14 days. This could dissuade Japanese citizens from vacationing in Guam and other destinations because of the hassle of quarantine upon their return.

For post-travel recommendations, the CDC also suggests that vaccinated travelers get tested three to five days after arriving in the U.S. This additional cost could again discourage tourists from visiting Guam.

GVB currently has a program offering free COVID testing for tourists. However, funding for this is expected to run out soon and GVB does not have the resources to carry out the free testing indefinitely.

Temporary setback

GVB Vice President Gerry Perez said: “Korean and Japanese arrivals for the first two months of Fiscal Year 2022 increased from 208 to 4,500 visitors year on year and U.S. visitors increased 162% to 6,670 visitors. These encouraging trends, however, have run into what may be a temporary setback pending further clarification on the severity and international travel restrictions recently imposed. Although highly transmissible, we are encouraged to learn that this variant has not been as deadly, nor as grave as the Delta variant, among afflicted individuals at its geographic source.”

He added: “While we are concerned with the prolonged return protocols in Japan and Korea that have been reimplemented, we don’t believe this will be long-lasting. GVB will continue to monitor the situation and adapt our recovery strategy as needed. We remain optimistic as scheduled air seats continue to hold. Guam’s vaccination process and local protocols should continue to protect our community during this evolving pandemic.”

The presence of the omicron variant has already been confirmed in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, France, and Canada.

According to Reuters, the U.S. government will also require private health insurers to reimburse their customers for 100% of the cost of over-the-counter, at-home COVID-19 tests, and make 50 million more tests available free through clinics and health centers for the uninsured.

The White House is considering further restrictions and ways to boost testing and vaccinations that will depend on the severity of the variant, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.