When is the US dropping pre-departure tests for vaccinated travellers?

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Pressure is mounting on the US to lift all COVID travel restrictions, with airlines stepping up their efforts to get the Biden administration to drop pre-departure testing. 

Currently, nearly all passengers have to take a test within one day of their journey. Most unvaccinated foreigners are completely banned from entry.

But with a busy summer season around the corner, how long will these strict measures hold?

What does the travel industry think of the testing rules?

On Friday, American Airlines CEO Robert Isom called testing requirements “nonsensical” adding that they were “depressing” leisure and business travel. 

Isom met with US politicians on Thursday to discuss the issue, saying that 75 per cent of countries the airline flies to do not have testing requirements. 

“We’re really frustrated and this is something that is damaging not only US travel but it just doesn’t make sense,” he said. 

Airlines for America chief Nick Calio added that requirement is harming the US economy. The trade association says that, while domestic travel has nearly recovered to pre-pandemic levels, international trips are still 14 per cent lower than normal. 

“Quite frankly, the only impact the pre-departure testing requirement is having is a chilling effect on an already fragile economy here in the US,” Calio explained. 

In May, more than 260 travel firms signed a letter to the White House demanding an “urgent repeal” of the pre-departure testing rule.

“It is time for the Biden administration to lead the country toward a new normal for travel and on a faster road to a full economic recovery,” according to the letter from the US Travel Association (USTA).

It follows a major development on 18 April, when a federal judge blocked President Biden’s plan to extend mandatory mask wearing on planes, trains and other public transport. That means masks are now optional as far as the US transit authority is concerned.

“We are always reviewing our guidance and new science that becomes available,” a spokesperson for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) told Euronews Travel in response to a question on when the entry rules are likely to ease.

In the meantime, here are the current US entry rules – and the indications that they could change soon.

When will the US drop its pre-departure testing rule?

At present, all travellers – regardless of vaccination status or citizenship – are required to get a COVID-19 test no more than one day before travelling by air into the US. This is distinct from 24 hours: it means the test can be taken at any point on the day before you travel.

Rapid antigen, PCR and a number of other kinds of tests are accepted. Only children under two years old are exempt from this requirement.

On arrival, fully vaccinated visitors do not have to quarantine, but are recommended to take another viral test within three to five days of arrival. 

All air passengers are also required to provide contact information to their airlines before boarding.

It’s not too onerous a rule – compared to peak pandemic admin – but the costs involved may mean that some European tourists choose test-free destinations instead, such as Thailand, for their long-haul summer break. Not to mention the cost of having a major trip derailed at the last minute.

The CDC is giving little away and the Whitehouse has said that any decision to bring pre-departure to an end will be made by its health and medical experts. 

Could a legal campaign get rid of America’s testing rule?

In early May, ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) dubbed the pre-departure test “the single biggest barrier” to travel recovery.

The Society is behind efforts by a group of lawmakers to lift the testing requirement by legal means. California congressman Lou Correa asked the White House to exempt fully vaxxed inbound travellers from having to provide proof of a negative test.

With American travel to Europe set to soar by 600 per cent this summer, compared to 2021, there will be pressure from holiday-makers across the States to ease this rule.

“Travellers are scared of being stranded abroad and having their vacation plans wrecked, which is preventing the revival of our domestic travel and tourism industries,” Rep. Correa added. 

“It is past time for our testing criteria to be brought into line with those used by other countries.”

When will unvaccinated tourists be allowed back to the US?

Generally speaking, the US is not open to unvaccinated tourists. The EU Digital Covid Certificate (EUDCC) and the UK’s NHS Covid Pass are both acceptable forms of proof that you are double-jabbed, with the second dose administered no less than 14 days before departure. Booster jabs are not currently required in the US.

Being recently recovered (having tested positive for the virus in the last year) is not enough to gain entry, either.

Children under 18 years old do not need to be vaccinated to visit America, and there are a few other exceptions for non-US citizens.

“If there are any changes, we will update the public accordingly,” a CDC spokesperson said.

Travel experts aren’t sure if unvaccinated citizens will be welcomed back before summer, but with the world in an increasingly strong position against the virus, 2022 is likely to be the year the US fully reopens.

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