The American Society of Travelers (ASTA) has formally requested the White House to exempt Americans flying to the United States from the pre-departure testing requirement. Currently all travelers, irrespective of nationality or residence, must present a negative Covid test within 1 day of travel to the North American country.
The measure, which was enacted in late 2021 in response to the spread of newly-identified variants such as the Omicron, has brought disruption to the travel plans of many. After all, no international travel is risk-free nowadays and testing positive while abroad will still prevent a majority of U.S. citizens from flying home on the intended date.
Exempting Americans From Inbound Testing Could Be A Game Changer For International Travel
Although it is hard to speculate on what kinds of regulations are being considered by the Biden Administration regarding the pandemic, it is safe to say that scrapping the testing requirement for American citizens returning to the United States would ease international travel and boost traveler confidence.
The ASTA’s Executive Vice President Eben Peck is well aware of that, and in penning a letter to Jeffrey Zients, the Covid-19 Recovery Team Coordinator for the White House, he specifically requested that U.S. citizens abroad be allowed to fly back without a Covid test. The move would certainly be welcomed both by the traveler community and IATA, who recently called on countries to lift restrictions for vaccinated passengers.
In the letter, Peck states that, at ASTA, they are committed to working towards a “travel industry restart” alongside federal, state, and international governments, as well as “the broader travel ecosystem”, and in a way that prioritizes the safety and health of American citizens.
According to Peck, while ASTA members understand the rationale behind the testing mandate, it still presents enormous challenges to travelers. Regarding such challenges, Peck highlights the “uncertainty as to the availability of timely testing in-destination“, seeing that all United States-bound passengers need to get tested within 1 day of arrival, irrespective of vaccination.
As some Travel Off Path readers who are also frequent travelers will recall, laboratories abroad have different processing times when it comes to testing. Additionally, not all of them are able to deliver results in 24 hours.
Peck also brings attention to the “financial and psychological burdens associated with being prevented from returning home due to a positive (or false positive) test result”. While high Covid viral loads are usually short-lived, some individuals may continue testing positive for weeks, even though they are no longer infectious.
The ASTA’s concerns echoes those of the World Health Organization, which has also urged national governments to relax testing regimes that place a disproportionate burden on travelers.
Peck also refers to the “general chilling effect” testing requirements have on international travel bookings, with the recent shortening of the testing window from 72 to 24 hours “exacerbating these challenges“.
Science Seems To Indicate Tight Travel Rules Are Ineffective In Barring New Variants
For the ASTA representative, inbound testing is the “single biggest barrier to the full recovery of the international travel system”, when over 200 million Americans are already fully vaccinated.
Recently, a study conducted by Oxera and Edge Health on the United Kingdom‘s epidemiological scenario concluded that, while tighter measures including testing for vaccinated individuals delayed the arrival of Omicron, it only did so for five days. The U.K. seems to have caught up with the scientific evidence, removing all testing requirements for vaccinated passengers.
Citing the U.K.’s scrapping of additional Omicron restrictions, as well as the European Union’s decision to no longer recommend testing for fully immunized residents, Peck calls vaccination the “single most important element of the fight against Covid-19″, and the industry’s sole chance of recovering anytime soon.
Lastly, Peck mentioned the importance of “finding a balance” between protecting the American people while still allowing cross-border movement of commerce and individuals.
While the ASTA’s move will surely be commended by other travel associations and American travelers, the White House still has full authority regarding measures enacted at the U.S. border.
Currently, as stated in the CDC webpage, all U.S. arrivals are required to present proof of a negative Covid test 1 day prior to arrival. If obtaining a negative test is not possible due to a recent persistent infection, an official recovery certificate will be accepted as a valid document for travel, as long as the infection itself is not older than 90 days before departure.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories