US to drop COVID-19 test mandate for international travel

US to drop COVID-19 test mandate for international travel

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The Biden administration is lifting its requirement that international air travelers to the U.S. take a COVID-19 test within a day before boarding their flights, easing one of the last remaining government mandates meant to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

A senior administration official said the mandate expires Sunday at 12:01 a.m. EDT, saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that it’s no longer necessary. 

The official, speaking Friday on the condition of anonymity to preview the formal announcement, said that the agency would reevaluate the need for the testing requirement every 90 days and that it could be reinstated if a troubling new variant emerges.

The Biden administration put in place the testing requirement last year, as it moved away from restrictions that banned nonessential travel from several dozen countries — most of Europe, China, Brazil, South Africa, India and Iran — and instead focuses on classifying individuals by the risk they pose to others. It came in conjunction with a requirement that foreign, non-immigrant adults traveling to the United States need to be fully vaccinated, with only limited exceptions.

President Biden speaks about the government's COVID-19 response, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022.

President Biden speaks about the government’s COVID-19 response, in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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The initial mandate allowed those who were fully vaccinated to show proof of a negative test within three days of travel, while unvaccinated people had to present a test taken within one day of travel.

In November, as the highly transmissible omicron variant swept the world, the Biden administration toughened the requirement and required all travelers, regardless of vaccination status, to test within a day of travel to the U.S.

Airline and tourism groups have been pressing the administration for months, pushing to eliminate the testing requirement, saying it is discouraging people from booking international trips. Many other countries have lifted their testing requirements for fully vaccinated and boosted travelers in a bit to increase tourism.

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In February, the groups argued the testing requirement was obsolete because of the high number of omicron cases already in every state, higher vaccinations rates and new treatments for the virus.