International travel is about to get a whole lot easier.
The Biden administration announced Friday that the United States will no longer require a pre-departure COVID-19 test to enter the country starting Sunday.
The requirement will be lifted at 12:01 a.m. ET, according to a senior administration official. The rule change comes more than a year after the country started requiring a negative test for entry and more than two years since the pandemic began.
Under current entry requirements, air passengers must take a negative viral coronavirus test no more than one day before boarding their flight into the U.S. The rule applied to all travelers, regardless of vaccination status or citizenship, but grants exemptions to travelers 2 and older who had recently recovered from the virus.
The decision came, according to the official, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined based on science that the requirement is no longer necessary. The decision will be reassessed in 90 days and the health agency plans to evaluate it on an ongoing basis.
If it becomes necessary to reinstate the pre-departure test requirement (in case of new, concerning variants, for example), the official continued, the CDC will plan to do so.
A number of other countries, including the United Kingdom, have already dropped pre-departure testing requirements for fully vaccinated visitors.
Requirements for travelers entering the U.S. by land or ferry remain unchanged: non-U.S. citizens, nationals and permanent residents can only enter if they are fully vaccinated. There is no testing requirement for land ports or ferry terminals.
‘Do travel restrictions work?’
The World Health Organization in January urged countries not to rely on proof of vaccination as a prerequisite to visit a country.
Under the new U.S. entry requirements, unvaccinated citizens and permanent residents will be able to enter with a negative test but most foreign nationals will still need proof of full vaccination to enter.
The mandates contradict findings that show travel restrictions slow the spread of the virus but do little to prevent it.
“We know that travel restrictions can’t stop the spread of these pathogens, especially when you have a novel pathogen that mainly spreads when people are asymptomatic or mild,” Maria van Kerkhove, the WHO’s COVID-19 technical lead, told USA TODAY in February. “You may slow spread, but it won’t stop the spread.”
Stewart Simonson, assistant director-general at the WHO’s New York office, added at the time that while travel restrictions may work “as a domestic political matter,” their efficiency as a public health measure is less certain.
“Do (travel restrictions) show the public that something’s being done? If that’s your perspective, then they work,” Simonson said. “Do they work from a public health perspective? Are they reducing the rate of spread or the spread itself? That’s another important way of looking at it, and there’s a lot of uncertainty.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz.