Thursday Sep 28, 2023

No more pre-departure testing? Travel groups push for end of COVID entry requirement for vaccinated flyers.

pre-departure coronavirus testing requirements
Image by Joshua Woroniecki from Pixabay

Travel industry trade groups are pushing federal officials to drop the pre-departure coronavirus testing requirement for vaccinated travelers flying into the United States.

Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said the organization is “very much in favor” of shaking up the entry requirements to make travel to the U.S. more seamless.

“Our expectation is that taking that away will definitely increase travel,” Dow told reporters Wednesday, adding that the expectation was an “intuitive guess” rather than one backed by data. “Travel is like water. You put a barrier in place, it will impede it.”

Other destinations, including the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico, have dropped testing requirements for fully vaccinated travelers in recent weeks. Dozens of trade associations hope the U.S. will follow suit.

A Wednesday letter to White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients signed by trade groups in a number of travel sectors “urgently” requests the Biden administration to remove the pre-departure testing requirement for vaccinated flyers.

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The U.S. has required travelers to test before entry since January 2021. Currently, all travelers flying into the country – regardless of vaccination status or citizenship – must test negative for the coronavirus with a viral test no more than one day before their trip. Domestic flyers do not need to test.

Wednesday’s letter argues that the pervasiveness of COVID-19 cases in all 50 states, increased immunity among the U.S. population, improved vaccination rates and new treatments for the virus have led to pre-departure testing among the vaccinated to be immaterial.

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The letter also points to research by consulting companies Oxera and Edge Health, commissioned by Manchester Airports Group, that found travel restrictions are likely to have a “very limited impact” on COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations when a variant is already prevalent within a country.

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“Removing the requirement will greatly support the recovery of travel and aviation in the United States and globally without increasing the spread of COVID-19 and its Variants,” the letter reads. “We share the Administration’s commitment to getting as many people fully vaccinated and boosted as possible and believe removal of this impediment for vaccinated travel will further incentivize vaccinations.”

The letter was signed by airline industry trade group Airlines for America, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and more than two dozen other organizations.

Brandon Guthrie, associate professor of global health and epidemiology at the University of Washington, agreed that the testing requirement’s contribution to easing COVID-19 rates within the country is “probably fairly negligible.” He pointed to U.S. case rates during the omicron surge, which hit record highs despite the testing requirements.

“(The testing requirement) may have delayed the omicron surge a little bit, but clearly it did not appreciably change the course of the surge,” Guthrie told USA TODAY.

He added that while the pandemic is “absolutely” not over, many public health officials are considering when and how to roll back restrictions in favor of “more sustainable, ongoing” ways to manage the virus.

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“We’re really thinking about, are we getting a benefit from those measures that offsets the costs?” Guthrie said. “Because it seems very clear at this point that we are not going to be seeing the end of COVID anytime soon. It is something that we are going to be living with and we are going to have to come up with strategies to do that.”


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Hailey Josephine

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