US to drop pre-departure testing requirement

The US is to lift its requirement for vaccinated arrivals to provide a negative Covid test before departure from Sunday.

The testing requirement has been the subject of intense lobbying from the US travel industry and political leaders in recent months, with the US Travel Association this week saying it planned to become “more aggressive” in its efforts to ensure its removal.

CNN reported a senior Biden administration official had confirmed the announcement would be made on Friday, with the requirement dropped from midnight on Sunday.

Bloomberg also confirmed the news, but added that the decision would be subject to review every 90 days.

US Travel chief executive Roger Dow earlier this week said the US government’s coronavirus taskforce had acknowledged the curbs had no scientific justification, and said it was now down to the president and his advisors to green light the change.

Dow and others argued the “arcane” need to test was putting off some travellers, and said its removal could result in an estimated additional 5.4 million visitors and $9 billion additional spend in 2022.

Speaking on Friday, he said: “Today marks another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States.

“The Biden administration is to be commended for this action, which will welcome back visitors from around the world and accelerate the recovery of the US travel industry.

“International inbound travel is vitally important to businesses and workers across the country who have struggled to regain losses from this valuable sector. More than half of international travellers in a recent survey pointed to the pre-departure testing requirement as a major deterrent for inbound travel to the US.

“Prior to the pandemic, travel was one of our nation’s largest industry exports. The lifting of this requirement will enable the industry to lead the way toward a broader US economic and jobs recovery.

Industry leaders attending the IPW Conference in Orlando this week insisted they had no indication of a timeframe for the decision, though there was some speculation that it could be imminent or made during the conference itself.

On Tuesday, US Travel executive vice-president of public affairs and policy Tori Emerson Barnes testified on the need to end the requirements at a hearing held by the US Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Tourism, Trade and Export Promotion.

More than 40 mayors of cities including Miami, New York and San Francisco also wrote to the president outlining the damaging impact the rules were having on the recovery of international visitor numbers.

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said: “The removal of pre-departure testing for international arrivals to the US is welcome news. It will boost consumer confidence even further and support the rebound in transatlantic travel this summer.

“Frictionless transatlantic travel in both directions means reconnecting with loved ones and business colleagues is made even easier, supported by an onboard policy which allows our customers and people to make a personal choice on face masks. We can’t wait to see more of our customers flying with us to the US this summer.”

Fred Dixon, chief executive of New York marketing body NYC & Company, said: “The lifting of the testing requirement for inbound international air travellers is very welcome news for New York City’s travel and tourism industry, and will no doubt accelerate our continued recovery and that of the US.

“We thank the Biden administration for ending this mandate and giving the industry the opportunity to speed recovery and restore jobs in the process.

“In NYC, international travel represents 50% of spending in a typical year. In fact, it takes the spending power of four domestic visitors to equal the spending of one international traveller, so easing the entry process means a stronger and faster recovery.”

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