The USA is lifting its requirement that international air travelers to the country take a Covid-19 test within a day before boarding their flights, easing one of the last remaining US Government mandates meant to contain the spread of the coronavirus. A senior administration official said the mandate expires on Sunday (June 12) at 12.01am eastern time in America, saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that it is no longer necessary.
The official, speaking on Friday, June 10, said the agency would re-evaluate the need for the testing requirement every 90 days and that it could be reintroduced if a troubling new coronavirus variant emerges. The Biden administration put in place the testing requirement last year, as it moved away from restrictions that banned non-essential travel from several dozen countries — most of Europe, China, Brazil, South Africa, India and Iran — and instead focuses on classifying individuals by the risk they pose to others.
It was coupled with a requirement that foreign, non-immigrant adults traveling to the United States from Heathrow Airport and other foreign airports need to be fully vaccinated, with only limited exceptions. The initial mandate allowed those who were fully vaccinated to show proof of a negative test within three days of travelwhile unvaccinated people had to present a test taken within one day of travel.
In November, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant swept the world, the Biden administration toughened the requirement and required all travellers, regardless of vaccination status, to test within a day of travel to the US. 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.
Roger Dow, president of the US Travel Association, called lifting the testing rule “another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States”. 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% 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 travelers in a bid to increase tourism.
In February, the groups argued the testing requirement was obsolete because of the high number of Omicron cases already in every state, higher vaccinations rates and new treatments for the virus. Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto said in a statement: “I’m glad CDC suspended the burdensome coronavirus testing requirement for international travellers, and I’ll continue to do all I can to support the strong recovery of our hospitality industry.”
The requirement for a negative Covid-19 test before flying to the US dates to January 2021. It is the most visible remaining US travel restriction of the pandemic era. In April, a federal judge in Florida struck down a requirement that passengers wear masks on planes and public transportation, saying that the CDC had exceeded its authority.
The Biden administration is appealing against that ruling, saying it aims to protect the CDC’s ability to respond to future health emergencies. The official said the CDC will continue to recommend Covid-19 testing prior to air travel of any kind as a safety precaution.
Despite ending the testing requirement, the CDC will continue to recommend Covid-19 testing prior to air travel of any kind as a safety precaution, according to the senior administration official.