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U.S. to require negative COVID tests for travelers from China

U.S. to require negative COVID tests for travelers from China
U.S. to require negative COVID tests for travelers from China 01:32

Travelers from China will need to test negative for COVID-19 before flying to the U.S. starting Jan. 5, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday.  

The move comes as the Chinese government has begun to ease travel restrictions that were imposed years ago early during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite a renewed wave of cases since it relaxed its "zero COVID" policy.

Starting this weekend, Japan says it plans to begin requiring a negative COVID-19 test for visitors from China. Malaysia has also "announced new tracking and surveillance measures," U.S. officials said.

"The U.S. is following the science and advice of public health experts, consulting with partners, and considering taking similar steps we can take to protect the American people," the officials said in a statement.

Federal health authorities have not required negative COVID-19 tests from any international visitors since the requirement was scrapped in June. The U.S. continues to require that foreign travelers prove they are fully vaccinated with the primary series of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Passengers traveling to the U.S. through Incheon International Airport, Toronto Pearson International Airport, and Vancouver International Airport will also have to negative if they have been in China in the last 10 days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does conduct voluntary tests collected at a handful of major airports to try to monitor for COVID variants among arriving international travelers. Federal health officials said Wednesday that they planned to expand the program to international travelers landing in Los Angeles and Seattle.

Spokespeople for the CDC and Department of Health and Human Services declined to comment on the possibility of new measures.

In response to Japan's decision to impose the new restrictions, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson called Tuesday for a "science-based response approach and joint effort" for safe travel. 

"We've always believed that for all countries, COVID response measures need to be science-based and proportionate without affecting normal people-to-people exchange," China's Wang Wenbin told reporters.

Concern over COVID variants

Scientists have voiced frustration over sparse variant sequencing released from China amid the country's current wave of infections, aside from a handful of travelers. 

In their statement, Biden officials echoed those concerns over the lack of "viral genomic sequence data" from China, saying they are in talks with other countries over steps to "identify any potential variants of concern."

"Without this data, it is becoming increasingly difficult for public health officials to ensure that they will be able to identify any potential new variants and take prompt measures to reduce the spread," they said.

All of the current variants circulating in China are descendants of Omicron, Chinese state media have reported, quoting their country's health officials, with BA.5.2 and BF.7 dominating infections in the country. 

First spotted earlier this year, these two strains have made up a fraction of circulating virus in the U.S. to date. Instead, the CDC's estimates rank the BQ.1, BQ.1.1, and XBB strains as far outpacing them around the country.

Infections linked to XBB has surged across the Northeast in recent weeks, climbing to more than half of new infections across the region. Ahead of Christmas, federal data shows hospitalizations reaching some of the highest rates since last February.

Scientists suspect a descendant dubbed XBB.1.5 is behind the renewed surge, with mutations that could offer a growth rate "head and shoulders" above all other strains. 

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