As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have announced new requirements for air passengers entering the United States from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau. This step has been taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the United States, particularly in light of the surge in cases in the PRC, given the lack of adequate and transparent epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data being reported.
Reduced testing and case reporting in the PRC and minimal sharing of viral genomic sequence data could delay the identification of new variants of concern if they arise. Pre-departure testing and the requirement to show a negative test result has been shown to decrease the number of infected passengers boarding airplanes, and it will help to slow the spread of the virus as we work to identify and understand any potential new variants that may emerge.
Starting January 5, 2023, all air passengers two years and older originating from the PRC will be required to get a COVID-19 test (such as a PCR test or an antigen self-test) no more than two days before their departure from the PRC, Hong Kong, or Macau, and show a negative test result to the airline upon departure. This requirement applies to passengers regardless of nationality and vaccination status.
In addition, passengers transiting through Incheon International Airport, Toronto Pearson International Airport, and Vancouver International Airport on their way to the United States will be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test if they have been in the PRC in the last 10 days no more than two days before their departure to the United States. These three transit hubs cover the majority of passengers with travel originating in the PRC and the Special Administrative Regions.
Airlines must confirm the negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery for all passengers before they board or deny boarding to the passenger. Passengers who tested positive more than 10 days before the flight can provide documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in lieu of a negative test result.
The CDC is also expanding the Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance program (TGS), a voluntary program that serves as an early warning system to detect and characterize new and rare variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. TGS collects anonymous nasal swabs from arriving international travelers on selected flights at major U.S. international airports. The program tests for the presence of the COVID-19 virus, and if it is detected, the program sequences the virus’s genome to identify any new variants. The program is expanding by adding additional airports (Los Angeles and Seattle), bringing the total number of airports to seven and the number of weekly flights covered to approximately 500 from at least 30 countries across all World Health Organization (WHO) regions. This includes approximately 290 weekly flights from the PRC and surrounding areas.
The approach laid out, when layered with existing CDC recommendations such as masking during travel, self-monitoring for symptoms, and testing for three days after arrival from international travel, will help make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations, and to be on alert for any potential variants emerging. The new testing policy, along with the expansion of TGS, will help to protect travelers and the health and safety of American communities.
In conclusion, the CDC’s new requirement for a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of recovery for air passengers boarding flights to the United States originating from the PRC and the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau is a significant step in slowing the spread of the virus and identifying any potential new variants of concern.