The Biden administration is preparing to relax COVID 19 testing restrictions for travelers from China as early as Friday, according to two people familiar with the decision.
The people, who were not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the administration has decided to roll back testing requirements as cases, hospitalizations and deaths decline in China and the United States has gathered better information about the increase.
The restrictions were imposed on December 28 and took effect on January 5 amid a surge in infections in China after the country sharply eased pandemic restrictions and as US health officials expressed concern that their Chinese counterparts were not being truthful with the world about the true number of infections and death.
At the time, U.S. officials also said the restriction was necessary to protect American citizens and communities because there was a lack of transparency from the Chinese government about the size of the increase or the variants circulating within China.
As part of its response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this year expanded genomic surveillance at several U.S. airports, collected voluntary samples from passengers aboard hundreds of flights a week from China, and tested wastewater on board airplanes. The traveler-based genomic surveillance program will continue to monitor travelers from China and more than 30 other countries.
The rules, introduced in January, require travelers to the United States from China, Hong Kong and Macau to take a Covid-19 test no more than two days before travel and provide a negative test before boarding the flight. The test applies to everyone 2 years and older, including US citizens.
New mandate for covid-19 testing for travelers from China
It also applied to people traveling from China via a third country and to people connecting through the US when going on to other destinations. Anyone who tests positive more than 10 days before the flight can provide documentation showing that they have recovered from covid-19 instead of a negative test result.
It has been left to airlines to confirm negative tests and documentation of recovery before passengers board.
Other countries including Canada introduced similar regulations. Canada’s restrictions on travelers from China, Hong Kong and Macau expire on April 5.
China saw infections and deaths rise after it eased back from its “zero COVD” strategy in early December following rare public protests against a policy that confined millions of people to their homes and sparked protests and calls for President Xi Jinping to step down.
But as China eased its strict rules, infections and deaths soared, and parts of the country for weeks saw their hospitals overwhelmed by infected patients seeking help. Still, the Chinese government has been slow to release data on the number of deaths and infections.
The US decision to lift the restrictions comes at a moment when relations between the US and China are strained. Biden ordered a Chinese spy balloon shot down last month after it crossed the continental United States. The Biden administration has also released US intelligence findings that raise concerns that Beijing is considering supplying Russia with weapons for its ongoing war against Ukraine.
Earlier on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang warned that Beijing and Washington were headed for “conflict and confrontation” if the US does not change course.
China warns of conflict unless US changes course
Qin’s comments came a day after Xi said in an unusually pointed speech that “Western countries led by the United States have carried out comprehensive containment, encirclement and repression of China.”
White House officials tried to tone down the heated rhetoric from Beijing.
“There is no change in the US position when it comes to this bilateral relationship,” Kirby said. “The president believes that these tensions obviously need to be acknowledged, but can be worked through.
—With additional files from Global News
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