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Covid testing for airplane travel is a mess—but infection screening is here to stay

Although air travelers will need face Covid-19 screening for the foreseeable future, there remains no global system for vetting test results.
Reuters/Phil Noble
  • Tim McDonnell
By Tim McDonnell

Climate reporter

Published Last updated on

If you’re traveling internationally this year, you should expect to show a negative Covid-19 test at some point during your journey. And you can expect the process to be a bit of a mess.

On Jan. 15, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines for air travelers: Starting Jan. 26, anyone entering the country through an airport, arriving from anywhere in the world, cannot board their flight without presenting proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken no more than three days before the departure time.

An exception is made for people who have contracted Covid-19 and recovered within the last three months, which must be certified with a doctor’s note. There is no exemption for passengers who have been vaccinated, since scientists remain uncertain if vaccinated people can still transmit the virus. Non-US citizens or residents from the UK, Ireland, most European countries, South Africa, and Brazil, with some exceptions, will be barred from entry to the US altogether indefinitely, the Biden administration said on Jan. 25.

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