The Biden administration is preparing to ease 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 condition of anonymity, said the administration decided to roll back testing requirements as cases, hospitalizations and deaths declined in China and that the United States had gathered better information about the outbreak.
The restrictions were put in place on December 28 and went into effect on January 5 amid a spike in infections in China after the country sharply eased pandemic restrictions and US health officials expressed concern about their Chinese counterparts not telling the truth to the world about the true number of infections and deaths.
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At the time, U.S. officials also said the restriction was necessary to protect U.S. citizens and communities because the Chinese government lacked transparency about the scale of the outbreak or which variants were circulating in China.
As part of its response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded genomic surveillance at several U.S. airports earlier this year, collecting voluntary samples from passengers aboard hundreds of weekly flights from China and testing the wastewater on board aircraft. The traveler-based genomic surveillance program will continue to monitor travelers from China and more than 30 other countries.
Rules imposed in January require travelers to the United States from China, Hong Kong and Macau to take a COVID-19 test no later than two days before travel and provide a negative test before boarding their flight. The test applies to anyone 2 years and older, including US citizens.
New COVID-19 testing mandate for travelers from China
This also applied to people traveling from China via a third country and people connecting via the United States when heading to other destinations. Anyone who tests positive more than 10 days before the flight can provide documentation showing they have recovered from COVID-19 instead of a negative test result.
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It was left to airlines to confirm negative tests and recovery documentation before passengers boarded.
Other countries, including Canada, have imposed similar rules. Canada’s restrictions on travelers from China, Hong Kong and Macao are due to expire on April 5.
China has seen infections and deaths rise after scrapping its ‘zero COVD’ strategy in early December after rare public protests against a policy that confined millions to their homes and sparked protests and demands for the president’s resignation. Xi Jinping.
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But as China relaxed its strict rules, infections and deaths rose, and parts of the country for weeks saw their hospitals overwhelmed with 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 time when US-China relations are strained. Biden ordered the downing of a Chinese spy balloon last month after it passed through 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 on Ukraine.
Earlier on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang warned that Beijing and Washington were headed for “conflict and confrontation” if the United States did not change course.
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Qin’s comments came a day after Xi, in an unusually pointed speech, said “Western countries led by the United States have implemented a complete containment, encirclement and suppression of China.”
White House officials have sought to downplay Beijing’s searing rhetoric.
“There is no change in the position of the United States with respect to this bilateral relationship,” Kirby said. “The president thinks these tensions obviously need to be acknowledged, but can be resolved.
—With additional files from Global News
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