The United States will require all travelers from China to show a negative covid-19 test result before flying to the country, as the rapid relaxation of covid-19 restrictions in Beijing leads to a spike in cases.
Passengers flying to the US from China will need to get tested no more than two days before they fly, federal health officials said, and present proof of the negative test to their airline before boarding.
The tests can be a PCR test or an antigen self-test administered through a telehealth service.
The requirement will apply both to passengers flying directly to the United States from China, including Hong Kong and Macau, and to passengers flying through popular third-country gateways, including Seoul, Toronto and Vancouver.
Passengers who test positive more than 10 days before their flight may provide documentation of their recovery in lieu of a negative test result.
The new rules will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. m. ET on January 5.
US officials have expressed deep concerns about China’s lack of transparency around the latest surge in cases, particularly the absence of information on genome sequencing that could help detect new strains of the coronavirus.
“We know that these measures will not eliminate all risks or completely prevent infected individuals from entering the United States,” a federal health official said. Still, “together, they will help limit the number of people infected and give us early warning of new variants.”
US health officials said the January 5 schedule was selected to give airlines enough time to adjust operations to implement the new rules. Officials did not estimate how long they expect these rules to remain in place, saying they would “monitor the situation on the ground and adjust as necessary.”
In addition, officials announced that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expanding the traveler-based genomic surveillance program to airports in Seattle and Los Angeles, bringing the total number of participating airports to seven with approximately 500 weekly flights from at least 30 countries covered. . This will include approximately 290 weekly flights from and around China.
“We are expanding that in hopes of picking up any variants that may emerge” as well as “reducing the transmission of a new variant by introducing this pre-departure testing program,” an official said.
The new requirement comes as Japan and India have announced Covid-19 measures for travelers from China amid concerns about a spike in cases.
Japan requires people traveling from China to undergo a covid-19 test upon arrival from December 30. Indian authorities have said that travelers from China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand will be required to show a negative Covid-19 test upon arrival. to India and quarantine them if they test positive.
China has started to loosen its strict covid-19 measures after dismantling the country’s longtime zero covid policy earlier this month. On Monday, China announced that it will end quarantine requirements for international arrivals effective January 8, marking an important step toward reopening its borders.
But the sudden end to China’s strict health policy has caught many in the country by surprise and strained the health system as it grapples with a surge in infections.
Officials noted that “CDC continues to recommend mask use during travel, self-monitoring for symptoms, and testing for three days after arrival for international travel.”
Officials said China uploaded “only about 100” new sequences to public databases in recent weeks, “including Omicron sub-variants such as BA.5,” but the small sample size raises concerns, the CDC said.
“What worries us is that a new variant could emerge in China,” an official said. “With so many people in China infected in a short period of time, there is a possibility and probability that a new variant will emerge.”
Asked if there were concerns about the veracity of the data, and whether China was being truthful and transparent, one official said it was mainly the amount of data that the administration was concerned about at the moment.
“We have limited information in terms of what is shared in relation to the number of cases (which) are increasing hospitalizations and especially deaths,” he said. “In addition, there has been a decrease in testing in China. That also makes it difficult to know what the true infection rate is.”
China’s foreign ministry responded Wednesday to reports that the United States is considering imposing restrictions on travelers from China, urging the parties to work together to ensure the safe movement of people between countries and the stability of the supply chain. global supply.
“We need all parties to work together scientifically against the epidemic to ensure the safe movement of people between countries, maintain the stability of the supply chain of the global industrial chain, and promote the resumption of healthy growth in the world economy,” he said. the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China. spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a briefing.
This story has been updated with additional developments.