US lifts COVID-19 testing requirement for international travel | Health, Medicine and Fitness
By ZEKE MILLER and DAVID KOENIG – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is lifting its requirement that international travelers test negative for COVID-19 within a day before boarding a flight to the United States, ending one of the last remaining government mandates designed to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that the requirement would end early Sunday morning. The health agency said it would continue to monitor the status of the pandemic and reassess the need for a testing requirement if the situation changes.
“This milestone is possible because of the progress we have made in our fight against COVID-19,” said US Health Secretary Xavier Becerra.
Airlines and tourism groups have been lobbying the administration for months to scrap the testing requirement, saying it discourages people from booking international travel because they could be stranded abroad if they contract the virus. virus during their journey.
Roger Dow, president of the US Travel Association, called the lifting of the testing rule “another big step forward for the resumption of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States”.
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The airlines argued the rule went into effect when few Americans were vaccinated — now 71% of people ages 5 and older are fully vaccinated, according to CDC figures. They also complained that people entering the United States through land borders are not required to test negative for COVID-19, although they must show proof of vaccination.
While domestic travel in the United States has returned to nearly pre-pandemic levels, international travel – which is very lucrative for airlines – has continued to lag. In May, international air travel to the United States remained 24% below 2019 levels, with declines among American citizens and foreigners, according to trade group Airlines for America.
Many other countries have lifted their testing requirements for fully vaccinated and boosted travelers in a bid to increase tourism.
Some infectious disease experts have said they are comfortable with the CDC’s decision and that lifting the restriction is unlikely to cause further spread of the virus in the United States.
Dr William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University said the rule was designed to prevent the importation of the virus, “but we have a lot of COVID here. It’s like telling someone not to pour a bucket of water into their swimming pool.
Dr Peter Chin-Hong of the University of California, San Francisco said the travel restrictions demonstrate authorities are trying to keep the variants out, “but they’ve never really been shown to be beneficial.” However, he said, requiring foreign visitors to be vaccinated makes sense to avoid overloading the US healthcare system with people at risk of developing serious illness.
The requirement to test negative for COVID-19 before flying to the US dates back to January 2021 and is the most visible remaining US travel restriction of the pandemic era.
In April, a Florida federal judge canceled the requirement for passengers to wear masks on planes and public transportation, saying the CDC had overstepped its authority. The Biden administration is appealing the decision, saying it aims to protect the CDC’s ability to respond to future health emergencies.
The Biden Administration set up the test requirement as he moved away from rules that banned non-essential travel from dozens of countries – most of Europe, China, Brazil, South Africa, India and Iran – and focused instead on classifying individuals according to the risk they pose to others. It was coupled with a requirement that nonimmigrant foreign adults traveling to the United States be fully vaccinated, with some exceptions.
The original mandate allowed those who were fully vaccinated to show proof of a negative test within three days of travel, while unvaccinated people had to show a test taken within a day of travel.
In November, as the highly transmissible omicron variant swept the world, the Biden administration strengthened the requirement and required all travelers – regardless of their vaccination status – to test negative within a day of traveling to the United States
In February, travel groups argued the testing requirement was outdated due to the high number of omicron cases already in every state, higher vaccination rates and new treatments for the virus.
Meanwhile, travelers have found creative ways to circumvent the rule. This spring, several Canadian National Hockey League teams flew to towns near the border and then caught buses in the United States to avoid the risk of losing players who tested positive.
US airlines estimate dropping the testing requirement will mean 4.3 million more passengers in a year.
However, it is unclear whether airlines can increase flights fast enough to handle this type of increase. Airlines facing a shortage of pilots have already reduced their initial schedules for the peak summer holiday season.
Brett Snyder, a travel consultant who writes about the industry at CrankyFlier.comsaid the requirement has caused some people to postpone international travel.
“It’s not that they’re afraid of getting sick, they don’t want to get stuck,” Snyder said. He believes there will now be an increase in bookings of these trips, “which, if at all, will lead to higher fares”.
Hotels, theme parks and other travel companies also lobbied the administration to drop the rule.
“The whole industry has been waiting for this announcement,” said Martin Ferguson, spokesman for American Express Global Business Travel, which advises companies on travel policy. He said there were few pandemic policies left that caused so much consternation for the travel industry, with China’s “zero-COVID” restrictions being another.
Despite the end of the testing requirement, the CDC said it still recommends testing for COVID-19 before any air travel as a safety precaution.
Koenig reported from Dallas. AP Medical Reporter Mike Stobbe in New York contributed to this report.
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