US demands negative COVID tests for travelers from China

Travelers from China must test negative for COVID-19 before boarding the United States starting next week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday. The testing requirements apply to travelers from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, and apply to all passengers regardless of their nationality or vaccination status, the CDC said.

The move comes amid another wave of infections in China eased its “zero COVID” policy The beginning of December. The Chinese government has also started to do this Easing travel restrictions imposed years ago, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The CDC is announcing this move to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the United States amid the surge in COVID-19 cases in the United States [People’s Republic of China] given the lack of adequate and transparent epidemiological and viral genome sequence data reported from the PRC,” the CDC said in a statement.

Beginning January 5, airlines will be required to obtain proof of a negative COVID-19 test from all passengers aged 2 and over before boarding flights from China to the United States. Both laboratory-based PCR tests and antigen self-tests are accepted as long as they are supervised by a healthcare provider.

Passengers on connecting flights must also provide proof of a negative test.

People traveling to the United States via South Korea’s Incheon International Airport, Canada’s Toronto Pearson International Airport and Canada’s Vancouver International Airport must test negative if they have been in China in the past 10 days.

“These three transit hubs cover the overwhelming majority of passengers traveling from the PRC and the SAR. We will continue to monitor travel patterns, adjust our approach as needed, and provide timely updates to Americans,” the CDC said.

Federal health officials have not required negative COVID-19 tests from international visitors since the requirement was lifted in June. The US continues to require all foreign travelers to show they are fully vaccinated with the primary series of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Officials said Wednesday they would wait until next week to impose the measure, which will allow airlines to implement the revived requirements.

“Airlines need some effort to update their data systems to get all of this in place. So we have to make this announcement today, but it will take time to implement the program,” a federal health official told reporters at a briefing.

Officials on Tuesday first admitted they were weighing the move, citing similar measures introduced by countries like Japan. They also cited China’s own rules for incoming international travelers, which continue to require Americans and other foreign visitors to test negative.

“We have always believed that COVID response measures for all countries must be science-based and proportionate without affecting normal people-to-people exchanges,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told the US on Wednesday ahead of the announcement reporters.

Concern about COVID variants

In addition to the new requirement, the CDC announced it will expand its current variant monitoring efforts to two new international airports in Los Angeles and Seattle.

The agency has already been tracking variants discovered in voluntary tests collected from incoming international travelers in recent months.

A total of about 290 weekly flights from China and nearby countries will be covered by the program once it expands, the CDC said.

“We have very limited information in public databases about variants currently circulating in China. Only about a hundred sequences have been uploaded in the last few months,” the federal health official said.

They pointed to the threat the virus could pose as it infects large numbers of “immunologically naïve” people in China.

All variants currently circulating in China are descendants of Omicron, Chinese state media reported, citing their country’s health authorities, with BA.5.2 and BF.7 dominating infections in the country.

“What worries us is a new variant that might actually emerge in China because so many people in China are getting infected in a short period of time that there is a chance or likelihood that a new variant might emerge,” the official said.

Aside from a handful of travelers, scientists have expressed frustration at the sparse sequencing of variants released from China amid the country’s current wave of infections.

All variants currently circulating in China are descendants of Omicron, Chinese state media reported, citing their country’s health authorities, with BA.5.2 and BF.7 dominating infections in the country.

These two strains, first discovered earlier this year, make up a fraction of the virus circulating in the United States so far. Instead, the CDC estimates rank the BQ.1, BQ.1.1, and XBB strains as vastly outperforming them across the country.

XBB-related infections have surged in the North East in recent weeks, rising to more than half of new infections across the region. Ahead of Christmas, federal data shows hospital admissions in the Northeast have reached some of the highest rates since last February.

Scientists believe an offspring named XBB.1.5 is behind the resurgence, with immune-avoidable effects mutations which appear to bind well to human cells. US demands negative COVID tests for travelers from China

Rick Schindler

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