Some COVID Travel Rules Are Changing In January. Here’s What You Need To Know.

The new rule comes as China experiences a surge in COVID cases, which US officials believe is not being adequately reported to other nations.

Beginning Jan. 5, people flying into the US from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau will be required to show proof of a negative COVID test or documentation that they have recovered from the disease before boarding their flights, according to the CDC.

The new requirement, which applies to everyone ages 2 and older regardless of vaccination status or nationality, is an attempt to slow COVID’s spread in the US as China deals with a surge in cases that the CDC believes is not being adequately reported to other nations.

Reduced COVID testing and case reporting in China, as well as “minimal sharing of viral genomic sequence data could delay the identification of new variants of concern if they arise,” the CDC said in a Dec. 28 statement. “These data are critical to monitor the case surge effectively and decrease the chance for entry of a novel variant of concern,” the agency added.

Travelers can submit their negative results from a PCR test or rapid antigen test — taken no more than two days before departure to the US — that has been administered by a licensed medical provider or monitored by a telehealth service.

The rule also applies to people traveling through the US to get to other destinations. Passengers traveling from Incheon International Airport, Toronto Pearson International Airport, and Vancouver International Airport — the three hubs that accommodate the majority of passengers who begin their travels in China — will be required to show the appropriate COVID-related documentation no more than two days before departure to the US if they were in China in the last 10 days.

Air passengers who have tested positive for COVID more than 10 days before their flight can also provide documentation proving their recovery from the disease instead of a negative test result.

In October, the CDC announced it was ending its country-by-country list of travel advisories unless a concerning variant or COVID-related situation were to arise.

On Dec. 23, the US Department of State issued a travel advisory warning Americans to “reconsider travel” to China, Hong Kong, and Macau “due to the surge in COVID-19 cases, arbitrary enforcement of local laws, and COVID-19-related restrictions.” (The US first issued a COVID-related travel advisory regarding China in January 2020.)

The CDC said it will continue to monitor travel patterns and adjust its approach as needed if the situation in China worsens.

COVID infections in China are increasing by roughly 20,000 cases a day, according to a World Health Organization tracker; Dec. 22 saw a daily jump in cases of nearly 27,000. COVID deaths are seeing a similar steady rise, too, increasing by about 400 each week.

The current surge follows China’s sudden relaxation of COVID restrictions after the nation’s “zero-COVID approach” spurred anti-lockdown protests. Experts predict that between 1 million and 2 million COVID deaths will occur in the country next year as the cases overwhelm hospital intensive care units and cause shortages in fever-reducing medications, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, the CDC said it is also expanding its Traveler-Based Genomic Surveillance program — a voluntary early-warning system that collects nasal swabs from international travelers on selected flights to detect new coronavirus variants — to airports in Los Angeles and Seattle. The program currently runs in San Francisco, New York City, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC.

“The approach laid out, when layered with existing CDC recommendations such as masking during travel, self-monitoring for symptoms, and testing for three days after arrival from international travel, will help make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations,” the CDC said, “and to be on alert for any potential variants emerging.”

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