U.S. Expected to Require Covid-19 Tests for All International Visitors

By Michelle Hackman and Andrew Restuccia for WSJ | Jan 12 2021

The U.S. government is expected to require all international airline passengers to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test before boarding flights to the country, people familiar with the matter said.


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is planning to issue its order as soon as Tuesday, following weeks of discussions among federal agencies and the White House coronavirus task force. The order is expected to go into effect Jan. 26, according to a person familiar with the atter. The CDC and other administration officials were still finalizing the order.


The CDC order for universal testing, including for U.S. citizens returning from abroad, requirement comes weeks after the Trump administration on Dec. 24 implemented a testing requirement for travelers from the U.K. amid rising concerns over a more infectious strain of the new coronavirus originally detected there. Since then, the new strain has been found elsewhere in the world, and its presence in the U.S. has been confirmed.

The U.S. requirement comes during a difficult time for the aviation industry and international travelers who face a thicket of varied testing protocols and quarantine requirements around the world, including public health advisories urging people to stay home to help limit the virus’ spread. U.S. airlines have voiced support for the new requirement, but have argued that ramped-up testing protocols should take the place of travel restrictions and quarantines to reduce the spread of Covid-19.


The Canadian government recently began requiring incoming international passengers to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test before boarding a flight to Canada. An airline trade group in Canada said the rule would be challenging to enforce.


“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,” Nick Calio, chief executive of Airlines for America, a trade group, said in a Jan. 4 letter to Vice President Mike Pence.


Mr. Calio also said the requirement should take into consideration countries where testing is limited, and he suggested the government make rapid testing available for the effort. He also touched on other complications—such as what to do with passengers who make short international roundtrips.


The U.S. currently bans travelers from certain countries, including the U.K., Europe, and China if they are non-U.S. citizens or permanent residents. And Americans are barred from visiting many countries, including most of Europe.


Before Covid-19 infection surges in recent months on both sides of the Atlantic, U.K. and U.S. officials had been working on a so-called travel corridor that would afford passengers shortened quarantines after mandatory tests before departure and after arrival avoid quarantines. For now, airlines have started to introduce testing protocols on certain routes that could eventually dovetail with international agreements to avoid quarantines.


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