Anyone traveling to the United States will soon have to show proof of a negative test for COVID-19, health officials said on Tuesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s requirement spans a similar requirement announced late last month for passengers arriving from the UK. The new order takes effect in two weeks.
COVID is already widespread in the United States, with more than 22 million cases reported to date, including more than 375,000 deaths. The new measures are designed to try to prevent travelers from introducing new forms of the virus that scientists say can spread more easily.
The CDC order applies to US citizens as well as foreign travelers. The agency said it had postponed the effective date until January 26 to give airlines and travelers time to comply.
International travel to the United States has already been decimated by pandemic restrictions put in place last March that banned most foreigners from Europe and other regions. Travel from foreigners to the United States and Americans to international destinations in December fell 76% from a year earlier, according to trade group Airlines for America.
The new restrictions require air passengers to take a COVID-19 test within three days of their flight to the United States and provide written proof of the test result to the airline. Travelers can also provide documents showing that they have had the infection in the past and have recovered.
Airlines are required to prevent passengers from boarding if they do not have proof of a negative test.
“Testing does not eliminate all risk,” CDC director Robert R. Redfield said in a statement. “But when combined with a period of stay at home and daily precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier and more responsible by reducing the spread on planes,” at airports and destinations.
The CDC order is “a reasonable approach” to reducing the risk of new foreign variants entering the United States, said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the school of public health at Brown University.
It is likely that the recently identified version of the UK virus is “probably in all states or most states.” It won’t do anything for that, ”Jha said. So far, 10 states have reported 72 cases of the variant.
But the new order could stop or decrease the spread of other new versions of the virus, such as the one recently identified in South Africa.
“I imagine that other countries will impose on us (pre-flight tests)”, he added.
Airlines have been pushing for pre-flight testing to replace broad travel restrictions between the United States and the rest of the world. In some cases, they have ensured that passengers avoid post-arrival quarantines by getting tested before their flight.
The tests “are essential to unblock international borders and safely reopen global travel,” said Nicole Carriere, spokesperson for United Airlines, one of the three major US carriers serving Europe and Asia. .
Others say the CDC’s order is unlikely to cause an immediate spike in international travel.
“People are encouraged by their public health authorities not to travel, even within the country,” said Henry Hartevedlt, travel analyst for Atmosphere Research Group.
He doesn’t expect air travel to resume until the summer, when more people have been vaccinated.
Koenig reported from Dallas
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