At a news briefing on Tuesday, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said the Biden administration had “no intentions” to modify or eliminate pre-departure COVID-19 testing requirements for visitors to the United States.
After the United Kingdom and even Australia revealed intentions to relax their own testing requirements for international arrivals, the administration has come under growing pressure to scrap pre-departure procedures.
Nearly all visitors to the United States are required by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to show documentation of a negative COVID-19 test done within one day of arrival. The testing timeframe was shortened from three days to two days after the Omicron variant was discovered in South Africa.
Critics of pre-departure testing argue that it is not only unnecessary owing to the effectiveness of mass vaccination campaigns, but that it also reduces travel demand since individuals are afraid of their plans being spoiled if they test positive.
A group of airline and tourism leaders, including the CEOs of American, Delta, and United Airlines, wrote to President Biden last month requesting him to abolish pre-departure testing as well as the federal face mask mandate.
While the business initially backed pre-departure testing, executives now argue “much has changed since these restrictions were enforced, and they no longer make sense in the current public health environment.”
“The persistent and steady decline of hospitalization and death rates are the most compelling indicators that our country is well protected against severe disease from COVID-19. Given that we have entered a different phase of dealing with this virus, we strongly support your view that “COVID-19 need no longer control our lives,” the letter continued.
“Now is the time for the Administration to sunset federal transportation travel restrictions – including the international pre-departure testing requirement and the federal mask mandate.”
The mask mandate is slated to expire on April 18 (unless it is extended again), but the pre-departure testing rules are not set to expire anytime soon. Despite this, the administration is under pressure to repeal the testing rules on the same day that the mask mandate is repealed.
However, Zients stated on Tuesday that there are no intentions to lift the testing restrictions at this time. However, Zients is poised to step down as White House coronavirus response coordinator, and a change in leadership could signal a new approach to the epidemic.