Effective January 5 (at 12:01am, Eastern Standard Time), all passengers inbound from China, Hong Kong and Macau, or who were in the country in the 10 days prior to their departure to the United States, must show a negative PCR or monitored antigen test in order to board flights to the United States. In addition, the same requirement will apply for those passengers who were physically present in China within the 10 days prior to flying through South Korea’s Incheon International Airport, Toronto Pearson International, and Vancouver International.
Amid concerns over lack of transparency around COVID case data and loosening of COVID-related restrictions, China is facing their largest coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic. The large surge of cases could potentially infect upwards of 800 million people over the next few months. Such a spike in infections over a very short period increases the chances of a new variant emerging, and with the risk of new mutations come the risks of heightened transmission and death rates.
In response, several countries including the United States, Japan, Italy, India, South Korea and Taiwan are implementing measures for travelers to both limit the spread of infection and to improve early detection of new variants. As of January 5, 2023, in order to enter the United States either directly or indirectly from China, Hong Kong and Macau, all passengers over the age of 2, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, must show evidence of a negative PCR or antigen test taken within two days at the departure gate. The only exception will be for those who have recently tested positive. Those who have had COVID-19 in the 90 days prior to their travel to the United States may present documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in lieu of a negative test result.
In addition to the steps taken to specifically protect against those who test positive while traveling from China to the United States, the CDC is also expanding its Traveler Genomic Surveillance program (TGS) to additional airports. TGS, run by the Travelers’ Health Branch at the Center for Disease Control, tests international travelers to detect new variants entering the country and to fill in gaps in global surveillance. During the early days of the Omicron surge, TGS detected two Omicron subvariants weeks before they were reported elsewhere. As part of the program, arriving international travelers volunteer to participate and anonymously provide nasal swabs that are then sent for testing to allow for detection of multiple variants as well as viral characterization to help provide information on a variant’s transmissibility, virulence, and response to current treatments or vaccines.
As the case counts and variants evolve and increase, so, too, must the guidelines around international travel and efforts to control the spread. Before making any international travel plans, make sure to double check the guidelines in place for each intended destination, prepare for delays and disruption, and continually monitor reliable news sources for updates.