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The Biden administration is lifting its requirement that international travelers test negative for coronavirus before flying to the US, amid pressure from airlines that viewed the measure as excessive and blamed it for depressing ticket purchases.
The move takes effect June 12. Helance Becker, a Cowen senior research analyst who follows airlines, says this will be huge for the sector.
The Biden administration is lifting its requirement that all travelers test negative for coronavirus before flying to the US, amid pressure from airlines that viewed the measure as excessive and blamed it for depressing ticket purchases.
The change will take effect just after midnight on June 12 and be reassessed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 90 days, according to a senior administration official who requested anonymity to detail the plan before it was formally announced.
Under existing policy, international travelers flying to the US are required to present proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within a day of their departure flight to the US. Foreign nationals will still be required to be vaccinated against coronavirus to enter the country, with limited exceptions.
The health agency may decide to reinstate the requirement if a new, concerning variant of the virus emerges, the official said. The administration will continue to recommend testing prior to air travel, but believes that coronavirus vaccines and new treatments made it possible to ease the requirement.
The move is not likely to significantly increase the risk to the US of coronavirus spread, according to biosecurity expert Eric Toner, though he said travelers should still wear masks when they fly to reduce the chance of the virus.
“Ending this burdensome requirement is long overdue and something I have been urging for months,” Wicker said.
Top airline executives have said in recent weeks that flyers were concerned about the risk of booking international travel only to become stranded in foreign countries. While domestic airline ticket purchases have largely rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, international trips have not.
“With the widespread availability of effective treatment options and vaccines, we believe this is the right time for this decision,” American Airlines Group Inc. said in a statement about the testing decision.
‘Huge Step Forward’
American Chief Executive Officer Robert Isom called the rule “nonsensical” in remarks at an industry conference last week and said it was depressing both business and leisure travel.
The U.S. Travel Association estimated that eliminating the requirement could bring 5.4 million visitors to the US and an additional $9 billion in travel spending through the remainder of the calendar year.
“Today marks another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States,” US Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said in an emailed statement. “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 US travel industry.”
The travel and tourism industry has traditionally supported one in 20 US jobs, either directly or indirectly, creating $1.9 trillion in economic activity in 2019, the Commerce Department said in a fact sheet this week.
But the Covid-19 pandemic cut deeply into the industry. Even with a partial recovery, spending by international visitors in 2021 was only 34% — $81 billion — of pre-pandemic levels, the Commerce Department said.
“It’s huge for the industry,” Helane Becker, a senior research analyst at Cowen, said Friday in an appearance on Bloomberg Television. The change should have “huge positive effects on international travel right into the fall,” she said.