The US is requiring all travelers from China to show a negative Covid-19 test result before flying into the country, as Beijing’s rapid easing of Covid-19 restrictions could lead to a surge in cases.
Federal health officials said travelers flying from China to the United States should get a test two days before flying, and submit proof of a negative test to their airline before boarding the plane.
Tests can be a PCR test or an antigen self-test administered through a telehealth service.
This requirement also applies to travelers flying directly from China to the US, including Hong Kong and Macau, For passengers flying through popular third country gateways including Seoul, Toronto and Vancouver.
Passengers who test positive up to 10 days before departure can provide documentation of their recovery in lieu of a negative test result.
The new rules will go into effect on January 5th at 12:01 am ET.
US officials have expressed deep concerns about China’s lack of transparency in the most recent cases, particularly the lack of genetic sequencing information that could help identify new strains of the coronavirus.
“These measures will not eliminate all risks or completely prevent infected people from entering the United States,” a federal health official said. However, “taken together, they can help limit the number of victims and give us a forecast of new variants.”
US health officials said the January 5 timeline was chosen to give airlines enough time to adjust measures to implement the new rules. Officials did not estimate how long they expected the rules to remain in place, saying they would “monitor the situation on the ground and adjust as necessary.”
Additionally, officials announced that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expanding a passenger-based genetic surveillance program to airports in Seattle and Los Angeles, bringing the total number of participating airports to seven with about 500 weekly flights from at least 30 countries. . This includes around 290 weekly flights from China and surrounding areas.
“We are expanding it to take any variant that may emerge” as well as “minimize the transmission of a new variant by introducing this pre-departure testing program,” an official said.
The new demand comes amid concerns about a surge in cases as Japan and India have announced Covid-19 measures for travelers from China.
Japan will require people traveling from China to undergo a Covid-19 test from December 30. Indian officials have said travelers from China, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Thailand will have to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test. If they test positive they have to go to India and quarantine.
China has begun to ease its strict Covid-19 measures after the country was evacuated Prolonged zero covid policy Earlier this month. On Monday, China announced it would end quarantine requirements for international arrivals starting January 8, marking a major step toward reopening its borders.
But the sudden end to China’s strict health policy has caught many people off guard in the country and put pressure on the health system to deal with a surge in infections.
“The CDC continues to recommend wearing a mask during travel, self-monitoring for symptoms, and testing for three days after arrival for international travel,” officials noted.
Officials said China had only uploaded “about 100” new strains to public databases in recent weeks “including Omicron subtypes such as BA.5,” but the small sample size gives cause for concern, the CDC said.
“What we’re concerned about is that a new variant could actually appear in China,” an official said. “With so many people infected in China in such a short period of time, there is a chance and probability that a new variant will emerge.”
Asked if there were concerns about the veracity of the data — and whether China is being truthful and transparent — the amount of data about the administration is key at the moment, one official said.
“We have limited information in terms of shared information regarding the number of cases (that) have increased hospitalizations and especially deaths,” he said. “Also, there has been a decrease in testing across China. So it becomes difficult to know what the true infection rate is.”
China’s Foreign Ministry responded Wednesday to reports that the United States is considering restrictions on travelers from China, urging the parties to work together to ensure the safe movement of people between countries and the stability of global supply chains.
“All parties should scientifically work together against the epidemic to ensure the safe movement of people between countries, maintain the stability of the global industrial supply chain, and re-promote healthy growth in the global economy,” China’s foreign ministry said. Spokesman Wang Wenbin told a briefing.
This story has been updated with additional updates.