The US will require airline passengers coming from China to show negative Covid-19 tests as global concerns ratchet higher over the virus’s spread since the country lifted restrictions aimed at stamping out infections.
Travelers coming directly from China or who were in the country 10 days before their departure to the US will have to show either a negative PCR or antigen test for the coronavirus, federal health officials said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity in a call with reporters. The requirement applies to all passengers regardless of nationality or vaccination status and will go into effect Jan. 5 at 12:01 a.m. New York time.
Passengers who tested positive more than 10 days before can provide documentation and recovery from Covid in lieu of a negative test result, the officials said on the call. Airlines will need to confirm the negative Covid test or documentation of recovery prior to boarding flights to the US. The requirement also applies to travelers from Hong Kong and Macau.
Covid has been spreading unabated in China since the government lifted its policy of strict quarantines and isolation for exposed and infected people. Almost 37 million people may have been infected with the virus on a single day last week, according to estimates from the Chinese government’s top health authority.
The US will also expand its viral genomic surveillance program of travelers to two additional airports, bringing the total number collecting samples for sequencing to seven. Passengers boarding hundreds of flights from at least 30 countries are covered by the program.
US health officials had been considering taking new coronavirus precautions for travelers from China amid concerns over lack of transparency around case data, Bloomberg reported earlier. US health experts are particularly concerned about the emergence of new variants that might not be picked up in testing in China, the officials said on the call. Health officials said they’ll continue to press China to release data and genome sequences of the virus.
The high number of people affected over a very short period of time raises the chances of a new variant emerging, health officials said. China is submitting few sequences of the virus to an international database that tracks mutations, the officials said. New mutations can make the virus more transmissible or more deadly.
Covid testing at US airports has tapered off as countries have abandoned pandemic-era travel restrictions. However, US health officials said that voluntary testing and sequencing at airports has continued and will be further expanded under a new effort to ramp up precautions amid the outbreak in China.
Italian health authorities said earlier Wednesday that they will begin testing all arrivals from China for Covid after nearly half of passengers on two flights to Milan were found to have the virus. Countries such as Japan, Malaysia and India are also ramping up tracking and surveillance measures.
When the delta variant first emerged in fall 2021, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention partnered with Ginkgo Bioworks Holdings and other companies to collect and sequence samples from travelers who arrived in the US from India.
Our new weekly Impact Report newsletter examines how ESG news and trends are shaping the roles and responsibilities of today’s executives. Subscribe here.