The Biden administration said it was “pulling out all the stops” with a package announced Thursday in response to surging coronavirus cases and a newly detected variant. But some of the key provisions — like reimbursable at-home tests — just allow the United States to catch up to what other countries have been doing for months. Others — like a shorter window for pre-travel testing — fall far short of the dramatic measures countries in Europe and elsewhere have implemented in the past days and weeks. Nothing in the package comes close to Britain’s new mandatory quarantines for all inbound travelers, Germany’s new national lockdown for the unvaccinated or Austria’s lockdown for everyone.

Martin McKee, a professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said covid-19 measures aren’t politicized in most countries to the degree they are in the United States, which has made it easier for foreign leaders to implement sweeping policies and restrictions without much controversy or obstruction. And, McKee said, most wealthy countries offer universal or more affordable health care than the United States does, so offering free or cheap at-home tests was expected in these places.

“This is where the U.S. is an international outlier,” McKee said. “Making testing free is clearly a good idea. Saying something will happen, though, and making it happen are two different things. There is going to be quite of lot of challenges in the supply chain. This is not going to happen overnight.”

Here is some of what Biden laid out Thursday and how it compares to policies in other countries:

Travel requirements

Starting next week, the United States will require all inbound travelers to submit results from coronavirus tests administered within one day before global departure. Previously, vaccinated travelers had been able to get tested as long as three days before departure. The administration also debated requiring arriving travelers to get retested within three to five days and to self-quarantine for seven days, federal health officials told The Washington Post. But those measures aren’t part of the announced package.

The one-day test window is relatively strict compared to what other countries require. South Korea, for example, asks that foreign travelers show a negative test taken no more than 72 hours before departure. But in that case, it’s a PCR test, rather than the less precise antigen test the United States allows. And more significant, South Korea mandates a 10-day quarantine for most people coming into the country.

Several countries have adopted those sorts of quarantines in the face of rising coronavirus cases and the new omicron variant. In Belgium, for example, travelers coming from most countries outside the European Union must take a test within the first two days of arriving, and they need to be quarantined until they receive a negative result. In Britain, the same applies to all incoming travelers.

The United States is aligned with many other nations around the world in restricting travel from southern Africa, the region where omicron was first detected, although there is much debate about the effectiveness of those sorts of blanket restrictions.

Rapid testing

Biden announced that his administration would push for insurance companies to reimburse Americans for rapid at-home tests, something that health leaders have been clamoring for more access to. Those who are not insured would be able to pick up free tests at community sites.

People in other wealthy nations might be surprised that at-home tests in the United States have been so expensive and in such short supply. Britain and Singapore are among the countries that deliver packs of rapid tests to people’s homes. Other countries offer the tests inexpensively. In India, they go for about $3.

Germany is another place that has been lauded for a widely accessible rapid-test program. In March, it began offering all residents free weekly rapid tests, conducted at public testing centers, doctors’ offices and pharmacies. But this fall, to encourage more people to get vaccinated, it stopped subsidizing tests for people who have not received their coronavirus shots. Like many countries in Europe, Germany has moved away from allowing people to show a negative test in lieu of proof they have been vaccinated or recovered. Under new restrictions announced Thursday, unvaccinated people in Germany without natural immunity will be banned from restaurants, theaters and nonessential shops.


The Biden administration is encouraging all adults vaccinated against the coronavirus more than six months ago to get a booster shot. And it is launching a public health campaign especially targeting seniors.

Other countries with the luxury of good vaccine supplies, though, have begun to introduce strict limits on what it means to be fully vaccinated. In Israel, vaccine certification expires after six months without a booster. The European Commission recommended last week that E.U. countries invalidate vaccination certificates after nine months, meaning that without a booster, it would be hard for people to travel and, in some countries, enter restaurants and other public gathering places. Austria is among those that have already adopted a nine-month rule.

Greece is going further. It announced this week that anyone over 60 will be fined 100 euros ($113) a month if they don’t get a booster, with money from fines going to support the health-care system.


The Biden administration’s announcement did not include many changes to federal masking rules, but it did extend requirements that people wear masks on airplanes, public transportation and trains through March 18 and doubled the minimum fine for noncompliance to $500. This transportation masking requirement was originally set to lapse in January.

Mask rules vary widely from country to country at this point in the pandemic. But requirements for masks on public transportation are pretty standard in much of the world. That’s true in much of Europe and Asia.

Some countries concerned about rising infection rates have also reimposed broader mask mandates. And in many cases, that’s on top of a requirement that people show proof of vaccination, covid recovery or a recent negative test to enter public gathering places. France, for instance, reinstated a requirement for masks in theaters and other cultural venues last week. France also requires a health pass for access to schools, restaurants, shops, trains and planes.

In practice, most people need to be vaccinated to be part of public life in much of Europe.