US drops COVID testing for international air travelers

People wait in line at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, ahead of Fourth of July weekend, on July 1, 2021. (SHAFKAT ANOWAR / AP)

LONDON / OTTAWA / ROME / WASHINGTON / VALLETTA – The United States late Friday rescinded a 17-month-old requirement that people arriving in the country by air test negative for COVID-19, a move that follows intense lobbying by airlines and the travel industry.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky issued a four-page order lifting the mandate, effective at 12:01 am ET (0400 GMT) Sunday, saying it is "not currently necessary."

The requirement had been one of the last major US COVID-19 travel requirements. Its end comes as the summer travel season kicks off, and airlines were already preparing for record demand. Airlines have said that many Americans have not been not traveling internationally because of concerns they will test positive and be stranded abroad.

US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said the CDC decision is based on science and available data, and said the agency "will not hesitate to reinstate a pre-departure testing requirement, if needed later."

The CDC will reassess the decision in 90 days, an administration official said.

The United States has required incoming international air travelers to provide pre-departure negative tests since January 2021. In December the CDC tightened the rule to require travelers to test negative within one day before flights to the United States rather than three days.

The CDC has not required testing for land border crossings.

The CDC is still requiring most non-US citizens to be vaccinated against COVID to travel to the United States.

In April, a federal judge declared the CDC's requirements that travelers wear masks on airplanes and in transit hubs like airports unlawful and the Biden administration stopped enforcing it. The Justice Department has appealed the order, but no decision is likely before fall at the earliest.

The CDC continues to recommend travelers wear masks and get COVID-19 tests before and after international flights.

Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Ed Bastian told Reuters last week that dropping the requirements will boost travel, noting that 44 of 50 countries Delta serves do not require testing.

Canada

The Canadian federal government announced Friday that it will suspend mandatory random COVID-19 testing at all airports for vaccinated travelers starting June 11 to reduce traveler wait times.

Between June 11 and June 30, mandatory randomized testing at Canadian airports will be "temporarily suspended" and unvaccinated travelers will still to be tested on-site, Transport Canada said in a statement.

According to the statement, as of July 1, all testing, including for unvaccinated travelers, will be performed off-site.

The European Union

Available data suggest that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines do not cause an absence of menstruation, the European Union's health regulator concluded on Friday.

The assessment was prompted by reports of menstrual disorders after receiving one or two shots of either the Modernaor or the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines

The assessment was prompted by reports of menstrual disorders after receiving one or two shots of either the Modernaor or the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

Menstrual disorders can occur due to a range of reasons, including underlying medical conditions as well as stress and tiredness. Health authorities have highlighted that cases have also been reported following COVID-19 infection.

Absence of menstruation is defined as no bleeding for a period of 90 days or more.

Meanwhile, the European Medicines Agency's Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee is still investigating cases of heavy menstrual bleeding with the two vaccines.

Reports of heavy periods – bleeding characterized by increased volume and/or duration that interferes with the quality of life – were highlighted as a potential concern after a study in Norway suggested an uptick in instances of the phenomenon following inoculation.  

On Friday, the PRAC said it had reviewed all available data on the possible risk but had requested vaccine makers to provide an updated cumulative review of cases.

READ MORE: Moderna: Omicron-targeted shot shows better response

A patient is checked by a doctor at a COVID-19 sub-intensive care unit of the Tor Vergata Hospital, in Rome, Feb 7, 2022. (GREGORIO BORGIA / AP)

Italy

Italy's coronavirus infection rate is on the rise again, according to data released Friday by the government's main health research institute, although the transmission rate is still declining.

Italy's National Institute of Health (ISS) reported Friday that for the one-week period ending on Thursday, the number of infections rose for the first time in weeks, reaching 222 cases per 100,000 residents. This was an increase from 207 per 100,000 inhabitants over the previous week.

However, the Rt rate, a measure of how fast a disease is spreading, was low. It continued to drop over the June 3-9 period, despite an increase in the infection rate.

The percentage of infected patients in intensive care units also dropped to 2.0 percent, down from 2.3 percent a week earlier, ISS reported.

All but two of Italy's 21 regions are now considered low risk, while two at moderate risk.

Also on Friday, there were around 21,500 new infections, 200 less than the previous day. Meanwhile, 52 new COVID-related deaths were reported over the previous 24 hours.  

Malta

Malta has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the new Omicron XE variant of COVID-19, Health Minister Chris Fearne said on Friday.

"This new variant is more infectious, so we are going to see a slight increase in community transmission," Fearne told a press conference.

However, there has not been a rise in cases presenting severe symptoms or complications, he added.

According to the World Health Organization, Omicron XE is around 10 percent more transmissible than the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron.

There are 1,548 active COVID-19 cases in Malta, with 187 new cases reported on Friday. This is the highest daily number of cases in the island country since the end of April.

Currently, 31 COVID-19 patients are in hospital, with two in intensive care.