WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration is lifting its requirement that international travellers test negative for COVID-19 within a day before boarding a flight to the United States (US), ending one of the last remaining government mandates designed to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Friday that the requirement will end this morning.
The health agency said it will continue to monitor state of the pandemic and will reassess the need for a testing requirement if the situation changes.
“This step is possible because of the progress we’ve made in our fight against COVID-19,” said US Health SecretaryXavier Becerra.
Airline and tourism groups have been pressing the administration for months to eliminate the testing requirement, saying it discourages people from booking international trips because they could be stranded overseas if they contract the virus on their trip.
President of the US Travel Association Roger Dow called lifting the testing rule “another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the US”.
Airlines argued that the rule was put into effect when few Americans were vaccinated – now 71 per cent of those five and older are fully vaccinated, according to CDC figures. They also complained that people entering the US at land borders are not required to test negative for COVID-19, although they must show proof of vaccination.
While domestic US travel has returned nearly to pre-pandemic levels, international travel – which is very lucrative for the airlines – has continued to lag. In May, US international air travel remained 24 per cent below 2019 levels, with declines among both US and foreign citizens, according to trade group Airlines for America.
Many other countries have lifted their testing requirements for fully vaccinated and boosted travellers in a bid to increase tourism.
Some infectious disease experts said they were comfortable with the CDC’s decision, and that lifting the restriction is unlikely to cause further spread of the virus in the US.
Dr William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University said the rule was designed to prevent importing the virus, “but we’ve got plenty of COVID here. It’s like telling someone not to pour a bucket of water in their swimming pool”.
Dr Peter Chin-Hong at the University of California, San Francisco, said travel restrictions demonstrate that officials are trying to keep variants out, “but they haven’t really shown to be beneficial, ever”.
However, he said, requiring foreign visitors to be vaccinated makes sense to avoid straining the US healthcare system with people who could develop severe disease.