The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed on Tuesday that it will require all airline passengers entering the United States from an international destination and who are over the age of two to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72-hours of departure. The new rules are set to come into force on January 26 and until further notice, although they won’t apply to passengers who are transiting through the U.S. to a third country.
The policy will expand upon a similar test requirement for travelers from the United Kingdom which came into force on December 28 in response to a new COVID-19 variant discovered in the country which is up to 70 per cent more transmissible than previous variants.
Since then, new variants have been discovered in South Africa, Japan and Brazil. Public health experts are not only concerned about the speed with which these variants can spread but their potential resistance to vaccines and existing treatments.
The CDC has apparently been considering expanding its pre-departure testing rules since Canada announced a similar policy just before the New Year. The announcement of the program was, however, delayed while officials tried to work out what tests would be accepted and what would happen if test availability was lacking in some countries.
“Testing before and after travel is a critical layer to slow the introduction and spread of COVID-19,” the agency said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon. “This strategy is consistent with the current phase of the pandemic and more efficiently protects the health of Americans”.
“Pre-departure testing with results known and acted upon before travel begins will help identify infected travelers before they board airplanes,” the statement continued.
The CDC has recommended pre-departure testing for all air travel, including domestically, for several months but has not had the authority to enforce those recommendations. The agency also recommends a second post-travel test between 3-5 days after arrival and a seven day period of self-isolation – again, these recommendations are unenforceable.
The pre-departure testing rule for international travelers will, however, be enforceable and it will be up to airlines to ensure passengers have obtained the necessary paperwork to travel. “Airlines must confirm the negative test result for all passengers or documentation of recovery before they board,” the CDC statement explained.
Like the existing rules for travelers from the United Kingdom, the CDC is expected to accept rapid Coronavirus tests, alongside slower and more expensive PCR tests.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.