WASHINGTON — The U.S. plans to lift a Covid testing requirement for travelers from China put in place earlier this year, a source familiar with the matter said Tuesday.
The plan, first reported by The Washington Post, would end the China-specific requirements that were implemented in early January.
The U.S. began requiring pre-departure negative Covid tests for travelers ages 2 and up flying from China on Jan. 5. The policy followed a surge in coronavirus cases in China after it ended its strict “Covid-zero” policy in December.
NBC News has asked the Chinese Embassy in Washington for comment on the plan, which comes amid heightened tensions between the two countries after a suspected Chinese spy balloon crossed the U.S. this year. The debacle derailed a planned trip to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who would have been the first U.S. secretary of state to have visited China since Mike Pompeo in 2018.
Beijing eased Covid policies at the end of last year after weeks of nationwide protests over restrictions that had constrained much of daily life for nearly three years. But the loosened rules were quickly followed by a fresh wave of infections, prompting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to announce the new Covid travel rule: a required negative test within two days of travel for passengers taking flights from China, Hong Kong or Macau.
Chinese officials on Jan. 14 reported nearly 60,000 Covid-related deaths since early December and asserted that the “emergency peak” of its surge had passed. However, the British-based health analytics firm Airfinity offered a starker forecast just two days later, projecting that China’s Covid-related death toll had yet to peak and that it would crest at 36,000 deaths a day on Jan. 26.
The Chinese CDC reported 3,278 Covid-related deaths nationwide from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2, which it said was about half the number from the previous week.
China has repeatedly been accused of undercounting Covid-related deaths.
After the Covid travel policy was implemented in January, U.S. officials have seen evidence that cases, hospitalizations and deaths in China are declining, sources familiar with the decision to lift the testing requirement said.
The sources added that U.S. officials will continue to monitor cases in China and keep using a program launched in 2021 to detect new variants through voluntary participation by travelers. The program, called the Traveler-based Genomic Surveillance Program, pools nasal swab samples collected from arriving passengers on flights from around 30 countries.
The CDC already requires all air travelers who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents to be fully vaccinated before they fly into the country.