As Shanghai enters its third week of lockdown in response to spiking COVID-19 case numbers and struggles to locate COVID-19 tests, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a stunning waiver to those returning from the hotspot.
In a deviation from its policy designed to contain the spread of COVID-19 and its variants into the United States, an advisory posted on the US Embassy in China’s website announced if US citizens and lawful permanent residents leaving Shanghai could not get a test in a timely manner, "the airlines may proceed with boarding these individuals without meeting the requirement of a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of recovery from COVID-19.”
Currently, the US government requires all travelers over the age of two entering the United States to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than one day prior to travel or proof of recovery from the virus.
The waiver is in place until May 11 and only applies to US Citizens and lawful permanent residents returning from Shanghai, China.
Unlike other countries that have adapted their approach to COVID-19 from one of eradicating the virus to adjusting to life living with the virus, China has continued to pursue a zero-COVID policy even as the cases prove not to be severe.
The Associated Press reports that the Chinese government “reported 29,411 new cases Thursday, all but 3,020 with no symptoms” with Shanghai counting for a majority of those cases.
In recent days, the lockdown has eased slightly, allowing some residents in some communities with steadying case counts to leave their homes but not their neighborhoods, following reports that residents were struggling to secure food and medicine.
What does the waiver entail?
The waiver is only in effect until May 11, 2022, and according to the embassy applies to “U.S. Citizens; U.S. Nationals, Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR); noncitizens in possession of a valid U.S. immigrant visa; and noncitizen nonimmigrants who are traveling with a U.S. citizen or LPR and possess valid travel documents allowing them to travel to the United States.”
It urges those flying to wear a well-fitted mask or respirator “ to keep the nose and mouth covered during the flight, as well as on public transportation and in airports and other transportation hubs.”
When will the US sunset the prearrival testing COVID-19 requirement?
The Biden administration has been under pressure by airlines and the tourism industry to sunset the prearrival testing requirement as a cascade of other countries — like the United Kingdom, Ireland, Jamaica, Greece, Norway, Sweden and Denmark— have ended their requirements.
In response to the extension of the mask mandate on public transportation until May, U.S. Travel Association Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Policy Tori Emerson Barnes called for the administration to provide “firm plans to navigate the endemic environment.”
”With all of the tools now available to mitigate the virus, it is time for the administration to set a clear end date for federal requirements on mask usage as well as pre-departure testing for air travelers to the U.S.,” Barnes wrote.
Last month, the CEOs of major US airlines sent a joint letter to the Biden administration asking for an end to the measure.
"Now is the time for the Administration to sunset federal transportation travel restrictions – including the international predeparture testing requirement and the federal mask mandate – that are no longer aligned with the realities of the current epidemiological environment," they wrote.
So far, the administration has given no indication on when — or if — it plans to eliminate the provision which was intended to help contain the spread of COVID-19 and its variants into the United States.
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