International travel just got a whole lot easier.
The Biden administration announced Friday that the United States will no longer require a pre-departure COVID-19 test to enter the country, effective Sunday.
The requirement lifted at 12:01 a.m. ET, according to a senior administration official. The rule change comes more than a year after the country started requiring a negative test for entry and more than two years since the pandemic began.
Under previous entry requirements, air passengershad to take a negative viral coronavirus test no more than one day before boarding their flight into the U.S. The rule applied to all travelers, regardless of vaccination status or citizenship, but granted exemptions to travelers 2 and older who had recently recovered from the virus.
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The decision came, according to the official, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined based on science that the requirement is no longer necessary. The decision will be reassessed in 90 days, and the health agency plans to evaluate it on an ongoing basis.
If it becomes necessary to reinstate the pre-departure test requirement (in case of new, concerning variants, for example), the official continued, the CDC will plan to do so.
A number of other countries, including the United Kingdom, had already dropped pre-departure testing requirements for fully vaccinated visitors.
Requirements for travelers entering the U.S. by land or ferry remain unchanged: non-U.S. citizens, nationals and permanent residents can only enter if they are fully vaccinated. There is no testing requirement for land ports or ferry terminals.
News of restriction drop well received by travel sectors
Across the travel industry, news of the pre-departure testing requirement for international, U.S.-bound travelers dropping was well received.
U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement that Friday’s news “marks another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States.”
“The Biden administration is to be commended for this action, which will welcome back visitors from around the world and accelerate the recovery of the U.S. travel industry,” Dow continued.
And Airlines for America President and CEO Nicholas Calio said in a statement that the organization is pleased with the decision.
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“The airline industry appreciates the Administration’s decision to lift the pre-departure testing requirement in accordance with the current epidemiological environment,” Calio said. “Lifting this policy will help encourage and restore air travel to the United States, benefiting communities across the country that rely heavily on travel and tourism to support their local economies. We are eager to welcome the millions of travelers who are ready to come to the U.S. for vacation, business and reunions with loved ones.”
Members of the cruise industry also welcomed the news.
Gus Antorcha, the president of Holland America Line, said in a statement that the move is a “step forward in the return to all global travel, including cruising.”
John Padgett, president of Princess Cruises, said the same.
“This is a tremendous development that allows our guests to travel more easily and without stress throughout Europe as well as experience our Alaskan cruises that conclude in a Canadian port,” said Padgett.
‘Do travel restrictions work?’
The World Health Organization in January urged countries not to rely on proof of vaccination as a prerequisite to visiting a country.
Under U.S. entry requirements, unvaccinated citizens and permanent residents will be able to enter with a negative test but most foreign nationals will still need proof of full vaccination to enter.
The mandates contradict findings that show travel restrictions slow the spread of the virus but do little to prevent it.
“We know that travel restrictions can’t stop the spread of these pathogens, especially when you have a novel pathogen that mainly spreads when people are asymptomatic or mild,” Maria van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, told USA TODAY in February. “You may slow spread, but it won’t stop the spread.”
Stewart Simonson, assistant director-general at the WHO’s New York office, added at the time that while travel restrictions may work “as a domestic political matter,” their efficiency as a public health measure is less certain.
“Do (travel restrictions) show the public that something’s being done? If that’s your perspective, then they work,” Simonson said. “Do they work from a public health perspective? Are they reducing the rate of spread or the spread itself? That’s another important way of looking at it, and there’s a lot of uncertainty.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz.