Airlines press US to lift pre-departure COVID testing requirements

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WASHINGTON — U.S. airlines are pushing the Biden administration to lift a 16-month rule that requires nearly all international air passengers, with a few exceptions, to test negative for COVID-19 before entering the country.

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Airline executives say many Americans are not traveling internationally because of concerns they will test positive in a foreign country and then be stranded abroad. US international air travel remains about 15% below pre-pandemic levels.

Airlines for America, an industry group, said on Friday that a survey of its carriers estimated that lifting the test rules would bring 4.3 million more international passengers and $1.7 billion in additional revenue — and could result in an increase of 1.075 million foreign visitors and $2.1 billion in visitor spending.

Crain’s Chicago Business reported Thursday that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he didn’t think the pre-match rules “would be there forever” but added that repealing them would require the Centers for Crash Control and Prevention Diseases (CDC) were confident “relaxing would not undermine the progress we’ve made against the virus.”

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The CDC declined to comment.

British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Reuters and other reporters in Washington on Thursday that he had discussed the issue with Buttigieg and some US lawmakers.

Shapps said the withdrawal requirements boosted the British economy and did not affect COVID-19 cases.

“It works to get rid of him. It was a huge boost for our tourism and travel industry,” Shapps said.

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He thinks the US is moving to lift the rules, but US officials have not given firm indications.

“My feeling is that it’s moving towards the endgame. I think they realize they need to go,” Shapps said. “My feeling is that in the summer.”

The UK, Germany, Canada and many other countries have eliminated pre-departure testing requirements for vaccinated travelers.

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