Starting Jan. 26 onward, the U.S. government will require all inbound international passengers to test negative for COVID-19, and present proof, before boarding flights into the United States, including Americans returning from abroad.
After both the Wall Street Journal and Reuters broke the news on Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its order confirming the new requirement. According to the WSJ, the order has been in discussions for weeks among federal agencies and the White House coronavirus task force.
All airline passengers on flights from the U.K. are already required to produce a negative COVID-19 before boarding, and the new order expands that requirements to all inbound international travelers, including those coming from Canada.
Starting on Jan. 26, all air passengers will have to get a viral test within three days of their flight to the U.S. and bring documentation of either the test (can be electronic) or documentation that they were infected and recovered, to their airline. Airlines, according to the CDC rules, must then confirm the negative test for all passengers before boarding, and any passenger without the documentation must be denied boarding.
The CDC, in its release, said that “variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus continue to emerge in countries around the world, and there is evidence of increased transmissibility of some of these variants. With the US already in surge status, the testing requirement for air passengers will help slow the spread of the virus as we work to vaccinate the American public.”
“Testing does not eliminate all risk,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield, MD, said in the release ,“but when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations.”
The news comes amid a rise of COVID-19 cases in the U.S.—more than 300,000 cases were confirmed last Friday, a record for the U.S., and another 200,000-plus cases were confirmed each day after through Monday—and as new mutations of the virus are being found around the world.
It also comes as vaccines continue to be rolled across the world—a total of 25.5 million doses have been distributed in the U.S., according to the CDC, with nearly 9 million American having gotten at least their first dose of a vaccine.
It’s unclear how the move will impact international travel, which has already been dramatically cut down by the COVID-19 pandemic and the border closures and expanded travel rules that followed. However, expanded testing has been seen as the solution to quarantine rules, which have been discouraging for potential international travelers.
Just this week, the World Travel and Tourism Council continue to push to remove “unnecessary quarantines” and have them replaced with new travel measures. WTTC President and CEO Gloria Guevara said in a statement that requiring travelers to undergo a PCR test should be more than enough and a negative test should act as proof of safe travel.
“Requiring inbound travelers and holidaymakers to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 pre-departure test should ensure safe travel. This will be critical to encourage essential bookings for future flights and holidays,” Guevara said.