US to end Covid testing requirement for international air travellers

The US has agreed to lift its Covid-19 testing requirement for international air travellers entering the country following intense lobbying by US politicians and the business community.

Beginning on Sunday, international air passengers will no longer be required to show a negative Covid test to enter into the US, a White House official confirmed.

However, the official said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would evaluate the policy “based on the science and in context of circulating variants”, suggesting the requirement could be reinstated should the country see a significant resurgence in cases or a new fast-spreading variant.

The long-awaited move lifts a policy that has been in place since January 2021 and comes after the US health agency in April dropped its mask-use requirement for air travellers.

More than 40 mayors representing cities including Miami, San Francisco, Houston and Atlanta wrote to the Biden administration earlier this week asking them to lift the requirement, citing the negative impact it was having on local businesses.

“American cities are still struggling to regain international visitors after more than two years of pandemic-related restrictions,” wrote the group of bipartisan mayors, noting that international visitation was still 78 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

“Our constituents and our businesses suffered greatly from this steep decline in international travel spending, and they cannot fully recover until this vital sector of the US economy rebounds,” the mayors said, noting that 40 other countries had lifted their pre-departure testing requirements.

Their appeal followed similar requests by members of Congress including a bipartisan congressional delegation from Nevada and 30 Republican senators.

Airline executives had also expressed their frustration at the pandemic-related travel requirement. American Airlines chief executive Robert Isom said last week “I think we’re all frustrated. We’re really frustrated”.

Business advocacy groups on Friday welcomed the reversal.

“Today marks another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States,” said US Travel Association president Roger Dow.

He noted that more than half of overseas travellers had citied the pre-departure testing requirement “as a major deterrent for inbound travel to the US” in a recent Morning Consult survey for the group.

A recent analysis by the travel industry trade group found that lifting the requirement could bring in 5.4mn additional visitors to the US and an additional $9bn in travel spending for the remainder of 2022.

“The lifting of this requirement will enable the industry to lead the way toward a broader US economic and jobs recovery,” Dow said.

Additional reporting by Kiran Stacey in Washington

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