US to relax Covid testing rules for travelers from China

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration is preparing to relax Covid-19 testing restrictions for travelers from China as soon as Friday, according to two people familiar with the decision.

The people, who were not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the administration has decided to roll back the testing requirements as cases, hospitalizations and deaths are declining in China and the US has gathered better information about the surge.

The restrictions were put in place on Dec. 28 and took effect on Jan. 5 amid a surge in infections in China after the nation sharply eased pandemic restrictions and as US health officials expressed concerns that their Chinese counterparts were not being truthful to the world about the true number of infections and deaths. The Washington Post was first to report on Tuesday about the expected administration move. 

At the time, US officials also said the restriction was necessary to protect US citizens and communities because there was a lack of transparency from the Chinese government about the size of the surge or the variants that were circulating within China.

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As part of its response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year expanded genomic surveillance at several US airports, collecting voluntary samples from passengers aboard hundreds of weekly flights from China, and the testing of wastewater aboard airplanes. The Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance Program will continue to monitor travelers from China and more than 30 other countries.

The rules imposed in January require travelers to the US from China, Hong Kong and Macau to take a Covid-19 test no more than two days before travel and provide a negative test before boarding their flight. The testing applies to anyone 2 years and older, including US citizens.

It also applied to people traveling from China via a third country and to people connecting through the US as they go on to other destinations. Anyone testing positive more than 10 days before the flight can provide documentation showing they’ve recovered from Covid-19 instead of a negative test result.

It has been left to the airlines to confirm negative tests and documentation of recovery before passengers board.

China saw infections and deaths surge after it eased back from its “zero Covid” strategy in early December after rare public protests against a policy that confined millions of people to their homes and sparked protests and demands for President Xi Jinping to resign.

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