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Biden Administration Announces Major Change in COVID Travel Policy

June 10, 2022 by Dan McCue
Biden Administration Announces Major Change in COVID Travel Policy
(Photo by L.Filipe C.Sousa via UnSpalsh)

WASHINGTON — Come 12:01 a.m. Sunday, international travelers will no longer have to test negative for the coronavirus before coming to the United States.

The Biden administration announced the major change in U.S. policy after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, “determined, based on the science and data, that this requirement is no longer necessary at this time.” 

However, in a briefing with reporters, a senior administration official said, “If there is a need to reinstate a pre-departure testing requirement — including due to a new, concerning variant — CDC will not hesitate to act.”

In May the U.S. Travel Association, an industry trade group, released a survey that it said showed the inbound pre-departure testing requirement was having “a devastating impact” on travelers’ likelihood of visiting the United States this summer and impeding the country’s economic recovery.

The survey of vaccinated international travelers in France, Germany, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Japan and India found that more than half said the added uncertainty of potentially having to cancel a trip due to U.S. pre-departure testing requirements would have a big impact on their likelihood to visit the United States.

A large majority of adults surveyed (71%) agree they would be prioritizing travel this year to destinations without cumbersome entry requirements, including 29% who strongly agreed.

So it wasn’t surprising Friday when Roger Dow, the organization’s president and CEO, lauded the administration’s announcement, calling it “another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States.”

“International inbound travel is vitally important to businesses and workers across the country who have struggled to regain losses from this valuable sector,” Dow said. “More than half of international travelers in a recent survey pointed to the pre-departure testing requirement as a major deterrent for inbound travel to the United States.

“Prior to the pandemic, travel was one of our nation’s largest industry exports. The lifting of this requirement will enable the industry to lead the way toward a broader U.S. economic and jobs recovery,” he added.

The Biden administration put in place the testing requirement last year, as it moved away from restrictions that banned nonessential travel from several dozen countries — most of Europe, China, Brazil, South Africa, India and Iran — and instead focused on classifying individuals by the risk they posed to others. It came in conjunction with a requirement that foreign, non-immigrant adults traveling to the United States needed to be fully vaccinated, with only limited exceptions.

The initial mandate allowed those who were fully vaccinated to show proof of a negative test within three days of travel, while unvaccinated people had to present a test taken within one day of travel.

In November, as the highly transmissible omicron variant swept the world, the Biden administration toughened the requirement and required all travelers, regardless of vaccination status, to test within a day of travel to the United States.

The lifting of the requirement comes six weeks after a federal judge ended the CDC’s mask requirement for mass transit, including trains, planes, buses and transit hubs, saying the agency exceeded its authority. 

The Biden administration is appealing that ruling, saying it aims to protect the CDC’s ability to respond to future health emergencies.

According to the U.S. Travel Association, the repeal of the pre-departure testing requirement could bring an additional 5.4 million visitors to the United States and an additional $9 billion in travel spending through the remainder of 2022.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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