US drops COVID testing for inbound international air travelers

WASHINGTON, June 10 (Reuters) – The United States on Friday evening rescinded a 17-month requirement that people arriving in the country by air must test negative for COVID-19, a move that follows intense lobbying by airlines and the travel industry.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky issued a four-page order lifting the warrant, effective Sunday at 12:01 a.m. ET (0400 GMT), saying it is not was “not currently needed”.

The requirement had been one of the last major COVID-19 travel requirements in the United States. Its end comes at the start of the summer travel season and airlines were already preparing for record demand. Airlines have said many Americans have not traveled abroad for fear they will test positive and be stranded abroad.

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said the CDC’s decision is based on science and available data, and said the agency “will not hesitate to reinstate a requirement for test before departure, if necessary later”.

The CDC will reevaluate the decision in 90 days, an administration official said.

The United States has required incoming international air travelers to provide negative tests before departure since January 2021. In December, the CDC tightened the rule to require travelers to test negative within a day of flights. to the United States instead of three days.

The CDC did not require testing for land border crossings.

Many countries in Europe and beyond have already dropped testing requirements.

The CDC still requires most non-US citizens to be vaccinated against COVID to travel to the United States.

Two officials told Reuters the Biden administration had considered lifting the testing-only rule for vaccinated travellers.

On Friday, JetBlue Airways (JBLU.O) chief executive Robin Hayes told Reuters the testing requirement was “the last obstacle to a truly full resumption of international travel”, saying it “is no longer serving to nothing”.

IATA, the world’s largest airline trade group, said it was “good news” that the administration was “removing the ineffective pre-departure COVID test for travel to the United States.”

In April, a federal judge declared CDC requirements that travelers wear masks on planes and in transit centers like airports illegal, and the Biden administration stopped enforcing them. The Justice Department has appealed the order, but no decision is likely until the fall at the earliest.

The CDC continues to recommend that travelers wear masks and take COVID-19 tests before and after international flights.

Raymond James said in a research note that the lifting of restrictions “is a significant catalyst for international travel”.

Delta Air Lines (DAL.N) chief executive Ed Bastian told Reuters last week that removing the requirements would boost travel, noting that 44 of the 50 countries Delta serves do not require testing.

US Travel Association CEO Roger Dow said Friday’s decision will “accelerate the recovery of the US travel industry”, which has been hit hard by the pandemic.

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Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Leslie Adler

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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