The US is relaxing COVID testing rules for travelers from China

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration is preparing for a détente COVID-19 testing restrictions for travelers from China already on Friday, according to two people familiar with the decision.

The people, who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said the government decided to roll back testing requirements as cases, hospitalizations and deaths in China decline and the US gathers better information about the surge have.

The restrictions were introduced on December 28 and went into effect on January 5 amid a surge in infections in China after the nation severely eased pandemic restrictions and when US health officials raised concerns that their Chinese counterparts were not being honest with the world about the true number of infections and deaths. The Washington Post was the first to report the government’s expected move on Tuesday.

At the time, US officials also said the restriction was necessary to protect US citizens and communities due to a lack of transparency from the Chinese government about the magnitude of the surge or the variants circulating in China.

As part of their response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded genomic surveillance at several US airports earlier this year. Collecting voluntary samples from passengers on board hundreds of weekly flights from China and the testing of sewage 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 from China, Hong Kong and Macau to the United States to take a COVID-19 test no more than two days before travel and present a negative test before boarding their flight. The test is for people 2 years and older, including US citizens.

It also applied to people traveling from China via a third country and to people transiting via the US when traveling to other destinations. Anyone who tests positive more than 10 days before the flight may provide documentation showing they have recovered from COVID-19 in lieu of a negative test result.

Airlines have been left to confirm negative tests and documentation of recovery before passengers board.

China saw an increase in infections and deaths after moving away from its “zero-COVD” strategy In early December, following rare public protests over policies that locked millions in their homes and sparked protests and calls for President Xi Jinping to step down.

But as China eased its strict rules, infections and deaths rose, and parts of the country saw their hospitals closed for weeks overwhelmed by infected patients search for help Still, the Chinese government was Data on the number of deaths and infections are slow to be released.

The US decision to lift restrictions comes at a time when US-China relations are strained. Biden last month ordered the downing of a Chinese spy balloon after it crossed the continental United States. The Biden administration has also released US intelligence findings raising concerns that Beijing is considering providing weapons to Russia for its ongoing war in Ukraine.

Earlier Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang warned Beijing and Washington would be headed for “conflict and confrontation” unless the US changes course.

Qin’s comments came a day after Xi said in an unusually poignant speech that “Western countries, led by the United States, have implemented comprehensive containment, encirclement and suppression of China.”

White House officials tried to downplay the hot rhetoric coming out of Beijing.

“There is no change in the stance of the United States when it comes to these bilateral relations,” said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. “The President believes these tensions obviously need to be recognized but can be worked through.”

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. The US is relaxing COVID testing rules for travelers from China

Sarah Y. Kim

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