End of virus testing mandate for international travelers to the United States

While coronavirus policies and masking rules around the world have faded in recent months, a major mandate remained in place: travelers ...


While coronavirus policies and masking rules around the world have faded in recent months, a major mandate remained in place: travelers to the United States had to provide a negative test result before boarding. of their plane.

From Sunday morning, that too will be gone. On Friday, a senior Biden administration official said it decided to lift the requirement at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, after Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials determined that the widespread adoption of vaccines and treatments for Covid-19 was no longer necessitated.

The decision was met with joy in the travel industry, who for months has been lobbying the administration to get rid of the testing rule.

“It’s a Friday miracle,” said Marc Casto, chairman of the board of the American Society of Travel Advisors, a trade group. “It’s huge. It’s monumental.

The hard-hit travel industry is already in the midst of a comeback, but Mr Casto said he believes dropping the mandate will lead to a double-digit percentage increase in the number of people traveling and staying in hotels abroad. American travelers had delayed their overseas vacation plans due to the mandate, fearing they would be stranded in foreign countries if they found out they were infected and would be forced to pay thousands of dollars in hotel costs and other expenses, he said. Conversely, international travelers to the United States faced the uncertainty of testing positive before their trips began. (International travelers to the United States should always be fully vaccinated.)

The US Travel Association, a trade group, predicts that dropping the testing requirement will bring 5.4 million additional international visitors to the United States and $9 billion in additional travel spending through the end of the ‘year.

The testing requirement was first introduced in January 2021, when less than 10% of Americans were vaccinated and new infections hit record highs. In December 2021, amid heightened concerns over the Omicron variant, the CDC tightened the rule by requiring travelers to present a negative test taken within 24 hours of departure. Previously, a test taken within three days Was asked.

The administration’s mask mandate, which required all passengers on airplanes and other public transportation to wear masks, was shot by a federal judge appointed by President Trump in April.

The testing requirement was also unpopular with many travellers, who risked ending up stranded abroad after testing positive. The CDC recommends that travelers self-isolate and delay travel for 10 days, regardless of symptoms or a negative test taken during the isolation period. Some people who didn’t want to wait that long used a “backdoor” route, rReturning home via land borders with Canada and Mexico, which do not require a coronavirus test.

For Mr. Biden, the decision to drop the requirement is welcome news at a time when the administration is struggling on a range of fronts. White House officials described the decision as validation of the president’s efforts to aggressively fight the virus.

New confirmed cases in the United States have remained roughly stable at around 110,000 a day on average Thursday for the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database, after falling from less than 30,000 a few months ago. Infections, however, are considered vastly underestimated as home test results are often not officially reported and many people with no or mild symptoms may not be tested at all. The number of deaths has been volatile in recent weeks but remains below 400 per day on average.

The CDC’s decision was important and overdue, said Dr. Luciana Borio, a former acting chief scientist at the Food and Drug Administration who also oversaw public health preparedness for the National Security Council. She said federal scientists must continue to examine the goals of the pandemic response and the effectiveness of certain interventions. Most of the transmissions, she said, were happening domestically.

“If the idea is to minimize the number of Covid cases in this country, the impact of entry screening is negligible,” she said. “We are at a point where we have the tools to minimize the morbidity and mortality associated with the virus. We should focus on the most effective measures.

The rule, she added, “also disproportionately affects people who cannot afford to be stuck in an international country.”

But the decision has caused criticism and alarm in other corners of the public health field.

Meegan Zikus, a bioethicist at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, who is immunocompromised, said lifting the mandate “completely ignores the safety and well-being of those at high risk.”

“The lifting of Covid testing for international travel entirely negates that there remains a global pandemic,” she said. “The world is exhausted by the pandemic. Trying to pretend it’s over is destructive, ignorant and hurts those least able to protect themselves.

But William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, said while the change could lead to new infections in the United States, it would have a considerably smaller effect than other policy decisions, such as lifting the mandates. of mask.

“Travel restrictions make sense when there is a big difference between prevalence and risk when you move between points A and B. If there is not a big difference, then they are not particularly helpful,” he said. “In many parts of the world there is now less infection than in the United States and you are much more likely to be infected in a bar in New York or elsewhere than in most random places in the foreign.”

The Biden administration official said the CDC would reevaluate the decision in 90 days and said the pre-departure testing requirement could be reinstated. if there are new concerns about another variant.

The administration official said the CDC will continue to recommend testing for travel.

Some American travelers currently traveling abroad breathed a sigh of relief on Friday. Lucia Torres, 39, who is due to return home to Florida from Spain on Tuesday with her husband, said she had canceled some activities planned for the last days of her vacation because she feared testing positive before his return flight. She and her husband are vaccinated and boosted.

“When we booked our holiday we decided to take the risk, but we couldn’t fully relax because it’s always on our minds,” she said. “Now we don’t have to worry, I can book a massage, go to a party, do whatever people do on vacation.”

Noah Weiland and Sarah Cahalan contributed report.

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