Passengers would have to be checked no more than three days prior to their departure to the United States (US) and submit the airline a negative result before boarding their flight or be prepared to show recovery documents, according to a new federal policy effective on Jan. 26.
In a comment explaining the new approach, Dr. Robert R. Redfield said, “Testing does not eliminate all risk.”
“Although it can make transportation cleaner, healthier, and more proactive by minimizing spread on flights, at airports, and at destinations when combined with a period of staying at home and daily precautions such as wearing masks and social distancing.”
The new policy requires all air travelers, irrespective of their vaccination history to be screened for the existing infection within three days of their departure from the United States and to have documented evidence of their testing results or evidence of recovery from Covid-19.
Immunization evidence will not be adequate, since these vaccines have only been scientifically proven to protect against major illness, said Jason McDonald, a spokesman for the C.D.C. Theoretically, vaccinated individuals can still become infectious and spread the virus on a flight.
Airline companies should verify the negative test result for all travelers or the recovery documentation before boarding. If a passenger is unable to provide evidence of the negative test or recovery or decides not to take a test, the passenger must be denied boarding by the airline, the agency said.
In a statement, administration officials said, testing pre and post-travel is a way to evaluate for decreasing the emergence and spread of Covid-19. The test criterion for air passengers, with the U.S. already in flood status, will help to slow the spread of infection as we work to vaccinate the American public.
The policy improves on a similar requirement, enforced at the end of December, that mandated British passengers to provide evidence of negative results on a virus test.
In many American states, the variant has already been identified and is expected to have spread much more rapidly, scientists have said. However, the United States genetically sequences only a tiny portion of its virus samples.
The extended requirements are being discussed for weeks by the White House coronavirus response team and federal agencies, including the C.D.C.
Most airlines provide passengers with optional testing however mandate it only when destinations need them to do so. But a group representing major U.S. airlines supported a proposal last week that would allow checking of all travelers.