The Biden administration will require airline passengers traveling from China to test negative for Covid before entering the U.S. as concern grows that widespread transmission of the virus in the world’s most populous country could result in new variants.
All airline passengers 2 years and older originating from China, Hong Kong or Macau will be required to get tested for Covid-19 no more than two days before their flight to the U.S. and show a negative result to the airline upon departure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Wednesday.
The requirements, which apply regardless of nationality and vaccination status, start Jan. 5. Travelers can get a PCR test or a rapid self test that is administered and monitored by a telehealth service. The rapid test must be authorized by the Food and Drug Administration or the relevant national authority.
Airline passengers flying through Incheon International Airport in South Korea as well as Toronto Pearson and Vancouver International Airports in Canada will also need to test negative for Covid before heading to the U.S. if they were in China 10 days beforehand.
These three airports cover the overwhelming majority of travelers whose trips originated in China but have connecting flights to the U.S., according to the CDC.
The testing requirements come as Beijing battles a major outbreak of the virus after easing its stringent zero-Covid policy in the wake of social unrest earlier this year.
The U.S. has limited information on the situation on the ground in China, a federal health official told reporters on a call Wednesday. Testing has decreased across China and it’s unclear what variants are circulating on the mainland because genomic surveillance data is also limited, the official said.
“The recent rapid increase in transmission in China increases the potential for new variants emerging,” the health official said. The U.S. is taking proactive steps to protect the public’s health and be on the alert for new Covid variants as the situation in China unfolds, according to the official.
The CDC is expanding its program that monitors international travelers for new Covid variants to include airports in Los Angeles and Seattle. The surveillance program will now include seven airports and cover about 500 weekly flights, including 290 flights from China and the surrounding region.
The surveillance program collects nasal swabs from international travelers on a voluntary basis, and the CDC then analyzes the samples that test positive for Covid to determine if they are a new virus variant.