U.S. will require COVID-19 testing for travelers from China
By Han Guan / AP
Wednesday, December 28, 2022 | 4:25 in the afternoon
The US announced new COVID-19 testing requirements on Wednesday for all travelers from China, joining other nations imposing restrictions due to a surge in infections.
The rise in cases across China follows the country’s rollback of strict anti-virus controls. China’s “zero COVID” policies had kept the country’s infection rate low, but fueled public disillusionment and suppressed economic growth.
The new US requirements, which start on January 5, apply to travelers regardless of their nationality and vaccination status.
In a statement explaining the testing, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited the rise in infections and what it said was a lack of adequate and transparent information from China, including genomic sequencing on the viral strains circulating in the country.
“This data is critical to effectively monitor the increase in cases and reduce the chance for the introduction of a new variant of concern,” the CDC said.
Some scientists are concerned that the rise of COVID-19 in China could unleash a new variant of the coronavirus on the world that may or may not be similar to the ones circulating now. That’s because every infection is another opportunity for the virus to mutate.
“What we want to avoid is for a variant to come into the US and spread like we saw with delta or omicron,” said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
But the CDC’s action may be less about stopping a new variant from crossing U.S. borders and more about increasing pressure on China to share more information, Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, adding that he hopes the restrictions “are not kept in place longer than necessary.”
“I don’t think it’s going to have a big impact on slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Dowdy said. “We have a lot of transmission of COVID-19 here within our borders.”
Dr. Stuart Campbell Ray, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University, agreed that China is not sharing enough information about the genome sequence. But he also said the U.S. has gotten a little complacent about the rankings and needs to redouble its efforts. The CDC also announced the expansion of an early warning program that tests volunteers at selected airports for new and rare variants of the coronavirus. This program will be expanded to airports in Seattle and Los Angeles.
Under the new US rules, travelers to the US from China, Hong Kong and Macau will be required to take a COVID-19 test no more than two days before travel and provide a negative test before boarding their flight. theirs. Testing applies to anyone 2 years of age or older, including US citizens.
It will apply to people traveling from China via a third country and to people connecting via the US on their way to other destinations. Anyone who tests positive more than 10 days before the flight can provide documentation showing that they have recovered from COVID-19 in lieu of a negative test result.
It will be up to airlines to confirm negative tests and recovery documentation before passengers board.
Other countries have taken similar steps in an effort to prevent infections from spreading beyond China’s borders. Japan will require a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival for travelers from China, and Malaysia announced new tracking and surveillance measures. India, Italy, South Korea and Taiwan are requiring virus tests for visitors from China.
The Lunar New Year, which begins on January 22, is usually China’s busiest travel season, and China announced on Tuesday that it will resume issuing tourist passports for the first time since the pandemic began in 2020.
“We look forward to welcoming Chinese travelers to the United States,” US Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman said in a statement. He called the U.S. approach to testing incoming travelers “reasonable and measured.”
The US action is a rollback in testing requirements for some international travelers. The Biden administration removed the last such mandate in June. At the time, the CDC continued to recommend that people boarding flights to the US be tested close to departure time and not travel if they are sick.
“We’ve done this before. We can do it again,” Dowdy said.
At the start of the pandemic, the US barred entry to foreigners traveling from China, weeks after the virus first appeared there three years ago, and dozens more countries were added to the list. The country began lifting travel bans late last year, but required travelers to the U.S. to be vaccinated and tested. ___
AP Science writer Laura Ungar contributed.
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