The US announced Friday that Covid-19 tests would no longer be required for international travellers arriving by air, a major step in the country’s gradual lifting of pandemic restrictions.
White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz confirmed the news on Twitter, with US media saying the measure would end this weekend after strong lobbying from the travel industry.
All passengers had needed to show a negative Covid viral test taken shortly before travel – or proof of having recovered from the virus in the past 90 days – before boarding a flight.
Munoz said President Joe Biden’s work on vaccines and treatments had been “critical” to easing the travel restrictions, and added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would continue to evaluate Covid data amid a recent rise in cases.
Last month, the US crossed the threshold of one million Covid deaths, with Biden acknowledging the “unrelenting” pain of bereaved families, and urging Americans to remain vigilant.
America recorded its first Covid death in early February 2020 on the West Coast.
“We believe we have made the progress that we need to make in having protocols in place around Covid that we can lift this requirement,” presidential economics adviser Brian Deese told CNBC.
“I think that will be good news for business travel, good news for American commerce and companies as well.”
Many mask mandates across the US have been lifted, but the country has recently seen an uptick in the number of daily virus cases, largely due to new Omicron subvariants.
About 300 people die every day in the country from Covid, down from the latest surge in February, when the daily average jumped to 2,700.
Vaccines have been free and widely available, but take-up rates vary widely between states.
Nationwide, 66.7% of the population is fully vaccinated, rising to 91.2% in those aged 65 and over.
With the US economy hit by rocketing inflation, the travel sector welcomed the move.
“The airline industry appreciates the administration’s decision to lift the pre-departure testing requirement in accordance with the current epidemiological environment,” the Airlines 4 America industry federation said in a statement.
“Lifting this policy will help encourage and restore air travel to the US… We are eager to welcome the millions of travellers who are ready to come to the US for vacation, business and reunions with loved ones.”