china travellers airport
Biden administration imposed testing requirements in January Image Credit: Reuters

Washington: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is set to end on Friday mandatory COVID-19 tests for travelers from China, joining other countries in dropping the requirements, a source briefed on the matter told Reuters.

Last week, Japan dropped a requirement that everyone take a test for the virus upon arrival from China. The source told Reuters the United States would continue to monitor cases in China and around the world. The US decision was reported earlier by the Washington Post.

The United States in early January joined India, Canada, Italy, Japan and other countries in taking new measures after Beijing's decision to lift stringent zero-COVID policies. It required new air passengers 2 and older to get a negative result from a test no more than two days before departure from China, Hong Kong or Macao.

South Korea to lift COVID test mandate for travellers from China
South Korea will not require pre-departure COVID test for travellers from China starting Saturday, South Korea's health authorities said on Wednesday, in its latest step to ease border controls on passengers from the neighbouring country.

South Korea had imposed several restrictions on passengers from China after Beijing lifted its stringent zero-COVID policy late last year, but Seoul has been easing them, citing an improved COVID situation in its neighbour.

The United States in December expanded its voluntary genomic sequencing program at airports, adding Seattle and Los Angeles.

The source told Reuters Tuesday the CDC would keep that program, known as the Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance Program (TGS), which asks travelers to volunteer to help with early detection of new variants.

TGS will continue to monitor flights from the China and regional transportation hubs, as well as flights from more than 30 other countries, the source said.


Opening borders

Removing the testing requirement will clear one of the last hurdles facing post-COVID global travel, particularly for business fliers going between the world’s two biggest economies. The move also potentially opens a window for Beijing to reciprocate by easing its own pre-flight testing rules for people coming from the US.

Barriers to full normalisation remain. China still demands PCR tests for travelers coming from the US — and has airline crew check the result before boarding — despite allowing people from some countries to just provide rapid antigen tests. Results might checked on a random basis upon arrival, according to a post from the Chinese embassy in the US.

Flights between the US and China also remain capped at 12 per week. There are just 172 flights scheduled between the US and China for this month, 94.1% lower than the same time in 2019, according to flight data company Cirium.

March of the pre-pandemic year saw 2,926 flights offering almost 850,000 seats among US and Chinese carriers flying in both directions.