U.S. to end COVID-19 testing requirement on travelers from China

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The Biden administration is planning to stop requiring negative COVID-19 tests from passengers flying from China, a senior administration official confirmed Tuesday, ending a restriction authorities revived some two months ago.

Officials are planning to end the requirement on Friday, a source familiar with the decision said.

The Washington Post first reported news of the decision. 

In late December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had announced that it planned to resume requiring travelers to prove they had tested negative for the virus before flying to the U.S. from China, Hong Kong, and Macau. That had come in the wake of the country relaxing its so-called “zero COVID” policy, leading to a surge in cases.

At the time, the CDC urged Americans to “reconsider travel” to China over reports that the healthcare system there had been overwhelmed. They also ramped up efforts to sequence tests from volunteers on arriving flights from China, in response to fears that a new variant could emerge from the massive wave of infections across the country.

Since then, authorities in China have declared victory over the virus, state media reported last month. Many countries have also moved to wind down their restrictions on arriving Chinese travelers, from Japan to Italy.

Variants sequenced and reported by Chinese health authorities and scientists have been all descendants of Omicron variants, similar to those seen abroad. 

The Biden administration now has evidence that COVID-19 cases and deaths are declining in China, sources familiar with the move said, and also has a better understanding of the surge. 

The CDC’s airport surveillance has also reported sequencing a handful of COVID-19 cases in arriving international travelers from China, according to data posted to the GISAID database. All have been Omicron variants. The airport variant surveillance effort will continue to monitor flights from China among other countries, sources said.

Federal health officials have defended their decision to require negative COVID-19 tests on arriving international travelers. However, officials acknowledged it would not prevent all cases from entering the country.

A CDC study published last month analyzing data from the original U.S. testing requirement, which applied to all arriving international travelers, suggested it could halve the number of COVID-19 cases arriving in the country.

“Certainly, pre-departure testing is leaky and won’t prevent all new variants coming into the U.S. that we’re trying to slow transmission there,” the CDC’s Henry Walke told a panel of the agency’s advisers in January. 

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