Travelers from Hong Kong, Macau and China's mainland must undergo a negative Covid-19 test beginning January 5, 2023, according to President Joe Biden's adminstration announcement on Wednesday. Even other countries have implemented similar requirements to prevent infections.
The new requirement comes as China is again gripped in another COVID-19 surge, reporting more than 250 million positive cases in the first 20 days of December, according to news media outlets. Travelers have two choices: to submit to a PCR test or an antigen self-test administered through a telehealth service.
Under the new rule, travelers older than 2 must submit a negative COVID-19 test taken within two days of departing for the United States. Nationality and vaccination status will not have any bearing on whether a test must be provided.
The policy also applies to travelers who have connecting flights in China. Passengers who tested positive 10 days before their flight can provide documented proof of recovery instead of a negative test.
American officials have continually expressed deep concerns about China's lack of transparency surrounding the most recent surge in cases, particularly the absence of genome sequencing information to help detect new strains of the coronavirus.
"We know these measures will not eliminate all risk or completely prevent people who are infected from entering the United States," a federal health official said.Still, "taken together they will help limit the number of infected people and provide us an early warning about new variants."
Meanwhile, China continues to loosen its COVID-19 restrictions following public backlash over its push for zero cases, which included lockdowns. Starting on Jan. 8, travelers entering mainland China will no longer need to quarantine upon arrival, ending a practice that has been in place since March 2020.
The increase in cases across China follows the rollback of the nation's strict anti-virus controls. China's "zero COVID" policies had kept China's infection rate low but fueled public frustration and crushed economic growth.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that new variants of the COVID-19 virus are likely to emerge and go unidentified for longer due to China's reduced testing and case reporting.
"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," the CDC said in a press release.
On Dec. 23, the U.S. State Department issued a level-three travel advisory for China, urging travelers to reconsider plans to visit the country "due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, arbitrary enforcement of local laws, and COVID-19-related restrictions."
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