Effective January 5, 2023, the United States will require nearly all air travelers from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Hong Kong, and Macau to present a negative COVID test or documentation of recovery before boarding their departing flight, according to a press release from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). The test must be taken within two days of departure. The new precaution applies regardless of the traveler’s nationality, and only individuals under age two are exempt. The move represents the first new COVID-related travel restriction imposed by the United States since the rollback of pre-travel testing requirements earlier this year. The United States joins a growing number of countries that are considering COVID-related precautions for travelers from China following the abrupt end of the PRC  government’s “Zero COVID” strategy.

Background: The End of “Zero COVID”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the PRC government has maintained some of the world’s strictest protocols to control the spread of the virus. Known as “Zero COVID,” the government’s strategy has included widespread testing, strict quarantine measures, and restrictions on inbound and outbound travel. These restrictions have been lifted over the past month, leading to a wave of new infections in China. The surge of infections has operationally impacted various government offices, including those of the U.S. embassy and consulates in the PRC, where routine visa services have been suspended with limited exception.

As a result of the change in the PRC government’s policy, inbound travelers to China will no longer be required to quarantine upon arrival, effective January 8, 2023. In addition, PRC nationals will once again be able to apply for passports to travel abroad. These announcements have reportedly led to a spike in visits to travel websites in China, with many PRC nationals seeking to visit Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and other destinations for the first time in years.

New Restrictions on Travelers from China

Increased interest in cross-border travel, as well as concerns about the pace of infections in China, have prompted some destination countries to reimpose COVID-related restrictions on travelers from China. For example, as of December 30, Japan will require all travelers who have been in China within the past 7 days to take a COVID test upon arrival in Japan, with the possibility of quarantine for individuals who test positive. Taiwan likewise announced that it will require on-arrival PCR testing for certain travelers from China. The Philippines and India are also reportedly considering similar COVID-related restrictions.

Requirements for Travel to the United States

According to the CDC announcement, travelers from China, Hong Kong, and Macau to the United States must present a negative PCR or rapid antigen test administered by a healthcare provider no more than 2 days before departure. The requirement applies to air travelers regardless of nationality or vaccination status. The requirement also applies to passengers traveling through Incheon International Airport, Toronto Pearson International Airport, and Vancouver International Airport on their way to the United States if they have been in China, Hong Kong, or Macau within the past 10 days, as well as to passengers who are merely transiting through the United States en route to another destination.

Passengers who tested positive more than 10 days before the flight can provide documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in lieu of a negative test result. Airlines will be required to confirm the negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery for all passengers before they board or deny boarding to the passenger.

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