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U.S. ditches negative Covid test for international visitors

The Omicron variant surge propelled the Biden administration in November to tighten Covid restrictions for people flying into the United States, requiring a negative Covid test just one day prior to travel. Depending on Covid-19 subvariants, the predeparture testing rule could come back, the 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.”

Leaders from Airlines for America — which represents major air carriers — and the U.S. Travel Association last month met with White House officials to again ask the administration to scrap the testing requirement, arguing that Covid cases are subsiding worldwide. In addition, they argued that air travel shouldn’t be singled out when other mass gatherings have no such restriction.

Furthermore, they said, the U.S. does not require testing for travelers crossing a land border to get in, and the federal government doesn’t require a negative Covid test to travel domestically. According to an analysis from Morning Consult, 39 percent of Americans have said the testing requirements make them less willing to travel internationally, said Lindsey Roeschke, Morning Consult’s travel and hospitality analyst.

Tori Emerson Barnes, U.S. Travel’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy, told the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade, and Export Promotion on Tuesday the association estimates that “9 billion in travel spending could happen this year” should the U.S. leave pre-departure testing behind “right now.”

“So it really is important that we do that,” she said.

The public health sector also seems on board with the decision. Scott Becker, CEO at the Association of Public Health Laboratories, cheered the decision, saying “I was never convinced it was adding any real protection,” and that overseas “my experience was that it seems to be ‘pay to play’ for a negative test.”

And Scott Whitaker, the CEO of health technology trade group AdvaMed, said “from a public health perspective it makes sense.”

“From a development and manufacturing standpoint we remain focused on working with the federal government and private customers to ensure we understand demand so we can meet the need. And It remains critical that the Administration lead the efforts on both surveillance and communication to ensure we can do what is necessary to meet the public health need for tests.”

The senior administration official on Friday said the CDC still recommends testing prior to air travel of “any kind.”

“We will be working with the airlines and other partners to ensure a smooth transition,” the official said.

David Lim contributed to this report.

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