NEW YORK (AP) – Anyone flying to the US will soon have to prove a negative test for COVID-19, health officials said Tuesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirements add to a similar requirement announced late last month for UK passengers. The new order will take effect in two weeks.
COVID is already widespread in the United States. To date, more than 22 million cases have been reported, including more than 375,000 deaths. The new measures are designed to prevent travelers from bringing in newer forms of the virus that scientists say can spread more easily.
The CDC regulation applies to both US citizens and 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 US has already been decimated by pandemic restrictions that were introduced in March last year that banned most foreigners from Europe and other areas. Travel by foreigners to the US and Americans to international destinations decreased 76% year over year in December, according to the Airlines for America trade group.
Under the new restrictions, passengers must receive a COVID-19 test within three days of their flight to the United States and provide the airline with written evidence of the test result. Travelers can also document that they had the infection in the past and have recovered.
Airlines are instructed to discourage passengers from boarding if they cannot prove a negative test.
“Testing doesn’t eliminate all risks,” CDC director Robert R. Redfield said in a statement. “However, when combined with staying at home and taking everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, travel can become safer, healthier and more responsible by reducing its spread on airplanes, airports and travel destinations.”
The CDC regulation is “a sensible approach” to reducing the risk of new variants entering the US from abroad, said Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University.
It is likely that the recently identified version of the virus from the United Kingdom “is likely to be found in every state, or most states. That won’t do anything for it, ”said Jha. So far, 10 states have reported 72 cases of the variant.
But the new order may stop or reduce the spread of other new versions of the virus, as recently identified in South Africa.
“I can imagine other countries will impose preflight tests on us,” he added.
Airlines have campaigned for preflight testing to replace the sweeping travel restrictions between the US and the rest of the world. In some cases, they have made sure passengers avoid quarantines after arrival by getting tested before their flight.
Testing “is key to opening up international borders and safely reopening global travel,” said Nicole Carriere, a spokeswoman for United Airlines, one of three major US airlines flying to Europe and Asia.
Others say the CDC ordering is unlikely to cause an immediate surge in international travel.
“People are encouraged by their health authorities not to travel domestically,” said Henry Hartevedlt, travel analyst with the Atmosphere Research Group.
He doesn’t expect air traffic to increase until the summer, when more people have been vaccinated.
Koenig reported from Dallas
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