Travelers flying into the United States from international destinations will be required to show proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding their flight.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the policy Tuesday and said it would take effect Jan. 26. The agency said it hoped the new testing requirement would help slow the spread of the virus, now surging in the United States, as the vaccine rollout continues.
“Testing does not eliminate all risk,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in a statement, “but when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports and at destinations.”
The CDC said travelers must get a viral test within three days before their flight to the U.S., which will likely send some vacationers scrambling to find locations.
Passengers will have to show proof of a negative test to their airline before boarding. If a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery from COVID-19, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding, the CDC says.
The number of passengers arriving in the United States on international flights has surged since June as travel has rebounded despite the continuing pandemic, according to Martin Cetron, the director of the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine.
There were 2.1 million arrivals between Dec. 1 and Dec. 28, he said, an average of 76,000 passengers a day and quadruple the number of passengers in June.
“There’s been this resurgence,” he said in an interview with USA TODAY before the testing requirement was announced.
For months, airlines have been pushing for a testing program to restart badly depressed international travel – especially critical business travel. Airlines bank on business travelers because they buy pricey last-minute tickets and travel frequently.
Even with the recent uptick in travel, the number of scheduled international flights to the United States is down sharply. In February, airlines have scheduled 29,121 flights, compared with 51,500 in February 2020, before the pandemic took hold, according to aviation data firm Cirium.
Airlines for America, the airline industry trade group, last week sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence urging the government to implement a global program to require rapid testing for travelers to the United States.
The group’s goal is to stop the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 while eliminating current entry restrictions on travelers from Europe, the United Kingdom and Brazil, the group said.
“These entry restrictions should be removed concurrently with the testing program, which will provide yet another layer of safety in the travel journey,” Nicholas Calio, the group’s CEO, said in the letter.
The CDC did not mention easing entry restrictions in tandem with the new testing requirement. USA TODAY has reached out to the CDC and Airlines for America for comment.
On Christmas Eve, the CDC ordered negative coronavirus tests for all travelers arriving from the U.K. after the discovery of a new coronavirus variant.
Canada went a step further, requiring all airline passengers over age 5 bound for that country to have a negative coronavirus test. Even with a negative test, arriving passengers are still required to quarantine for 14 days.