WASHINGTON — Federal officials will require all international travelers flying to the United States to show proof they have tested negative for the coronavirus, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials announced Tuesday.
The order, set to go into effect Jan. 26, would greatly expand a requirement put into place last month that mandated testing for American citizens and others flying to the U.S. from the United Kingdom. Officials say they hope expanding the mandatory testing could help to thwart the virus and a faster-spreading variant that surfaced there and is now circulating in the United States.
“Testing does not eliminate all risk,” CDC director Robert Redfield said in a statement. “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.”
More than 100 countries require visitors to show proof of a negative coronavirus test. CDC officials said about 100,000 travelers come to the U.S. daily.
Airlines long have pushed for a testing requirement in hopes that it could replace quarantine measures that many nations have used to stop the spread of the virus.
In a letter sent to the White House last week, the trade group Airlines for America endorsed testing for international travelers instead of restrictions in place for those from Europe, the United Kingdom and Brazil. Nicholas Calio, A4A’s chief executive officer, wrote that a well-planned program could ensure the safety of the traveling public while also making room for “essential economic activities on which our country relies.”
“We believe a well-planned program focused on increasing testing of travelers to the United States will further these objectives in a much more effective way than the blanket travel restrictions currently in place,” wrote Nicholas Calio, A4A’s chief executive officer.
Calio asked that airlines be given 14 days to implement a testing program.
The order mirrors one issued Dec. 24 for travelers flying to the U.S. from the United Kingdom. Under those requirements, passengers are required to be tested within three days of their flight and must provide written documentation of the results. Both PRC and antigen tests will be acceptable.
However, the CDC does not support using testing as a substitute for quarantines, which some states and countries have put into place to slow the spread of the virus. The agency’s updated guidance recommends testing in combination with quarantining, frequent hand washing, mask wearing and physical distancing.
It did not appear there were plans to drop travel restrictions the U.S. imposed in March on many foreign nationals who had been in the United Kingdom, several countries in Europe and Brazil in the previous 14 days. Most travelers from those nations are not permitted to enter the U.S.
Many airports around the world offer on-site testing with results in as little as 30 minutes. Airlines, too, have set up programs that allow customers to be tested for the virus before they board flights.
The aviation industry has pushed for countries to embrace testing in place of quarantines, while surveys show travelers are more reluctant to travel to destinations that require them to quarantine. Even so, countries have not rushed to do away with quarantine requirements as new waves of infections have swept the globe.
In the U.S., some states, including Hawaii, Connecticut and New York, are allowing visitors to reduce the amount of time they must quarantine or skip quarantines altogether if they can provide proof of a negative coronavirus test.
In a call with reporters Tuesday, Alexandre de Juniac, director general of the International Air Transport Association, expressed frustration that nations have continued to implement quarantines.
“A more balanced public policy approach is needed — one that is based on testing as a replacement for quarantines so that we can begin addressing the severe side effects of COVID-19 policies,” he said. “Science tells us that travelers will not be a significant factor in community transmission if testing is used effectively. But most governments have tunnel-vision on quarantine and are not at all focused on finding ways to safely reopen borders — or alleviate the self-imposed economic and mental health hardships of the lockdowns.”
Though is it not part of the order issued by the CDC, the agency also previously recommended that people be tested three to five days after the return home.