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President Biden speaks at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland on December 2. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Thursday announced new testing protocols for international travelers and extended masking requirements through March as the U.S. prepares to fight the Omicron variant this winter.

Driving the news: The U.S. will tighten pre-departure testing protocols starting early next week by requiring all inbound international travelers to take COVID-19 tests within one day of their departure rather than three.

  • The rule will apply regardless of a traveler's nationality or vaccination status.
  • "This type of testing timetable provides an added degree of protection as scientists continue to study the Omicron variant," Biden said Thursday while speaking at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
  • The administration will also extend masking requirements for those traveling by plane, rail and public transit through March 18.

What he's saying: "I know COVID-19 has been very divisive in this country. It's become a political issue, which is a sad, sad commentary. It shouldn't be, but it has been," Biden said.

  • "Now as we move into the winter and face the challenge of this new variant, this is a moment we can put the divisiveness behind us I hope."
  • "The actions I'm announcing are ones that all Americans can rally behind and should unite us in the fight against COVID-19. And they come from a position of strength, we are better positioned than we were a year ago to fight COVID-19," Biden said.

Details: Biden's plan announced Thursday also includes expanding the nationwide booster campaign, launching new family vaccine clinics and increasing access to free at-home COVID-19 tests.

  • There is no plan as of now to implement post-arrival testing or quarantine requirements, according to the senior administration official.
  • "If additional measures are recommended, if additional measures can be implemented well and are effective, we won't hesitate to take them," a senior administration official said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with details from Biden's speech.

Go deeper

Minneapolis and St. Paul to require vaccine or test for indoor dining

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

New vaccine-or-test requirements for indoor dining and drinking in Minneapolis and St. Paul take effect Wednesday.

The big picture: A growing number of major cities, including Boston, Chicago and New York, have instituted similar requirements in an effort to protect public health.

Yes, but: Questions about enforcement, logistics and effectiveness of the temporary measures here remain.

Updated 31 mins ago - Science

Volcanic eruption in Tonga caused "significant" damage

This satellite image of the eruption on Jan. 15 taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency and released by National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT). Photo: NICT via AP

Significant damage has been reported in Tonga following an undersea volcanic eruption on Saturday, which covered the Pacific nation in ash and cut off communication lines.

Driving the news: The eruption triggered tsunami warnings across Tonga's islands and in other regions, including the West Coast of the U.S. and New Zealand.

44 mins ago - World

North Korea launches 4th suspected missile test this month

A news broadcast in Seoul, South Korea, of an apparent North Korean missile test on Monday morning local time. Photo: Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

North Korea's military fired "two suspected short-range ballistic missiles" eastward from Pyongyang on Monday morning local time, per South Korean and Japanese officials.

Why it matters: The fourth such launch since Jan. 5 comes days after North Korea's military warned of "stronger" action if the U.S. moved to have more sanctions imposed on the country.