US to enact testing requirement for travelers from China: 3 COVID-19 updates

Beginning Jan. 5, travelers from China, Hong Kong and Macau will be required to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding flights headed to the U.S., the CDC said in a Dec. 28 announcement. The move comes as concern mounts over a growing surge of cases in China. 

The requirement applies to all air passengers ages 2 and older, regardless of nationality and vaccination status. It also extends to travelers from China who enter the U.S. through a third country, and to those who have a connection in the U.S.

"CDC is announcing this step to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the United States during the surge in COVID-19 cases in the [People's Republic of China] given the lack of adequate and transparent epidemiological and viral genomic sequence data being reported from the PRC," the agency said. "These data are critical to monitor the case surge effectively and decrease the chance for entry of a novel variant of concern." 

China's recent loosening of its "zero COVID-19 policy" has led to a severe surge in infections, with images and videos showing overwhelmed hospitals and reports of healthcare workers being forced to work while infected, The New York Times reports. The scope of the outbreak is unclear, given the lack of data reported by China. Local governments have reported hundreds of thousands of cases per day, according to the Times.  

Reactions to the testing requirement among health experts varied, though many health experts said such a requirement should apply to travelers from all countries, not just China.  

"Optics is not worth it people," Katelyn Jetelina, PhD, CEO of epidemiology publication EpiMonitor and former professor at Houston-based University of Texas Health Science Center, tweeted

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, told CNBC the policy may be because of the lack of COVID-19 information coming from China, meaning the data from the tests could provide more insight on current subvariants or whether new variants are emerging.

Dr. Gottlieb said he thinks travel restrictions don't work. 

"The situation [in China] is already pretty dire," he told CNBC. "Their hospitals are already overrun and they're in the early innings of this."

Two more COVID-19 updates: 

1. A new omicron subvariant, XBB, is on its way to becoming the dominant U.S. strain, CDC data suggests. The subvariant, which is a fusion of two other omicron subvariants, was estimated to account for more than 18 percent of cases for the week ending Dec. 24. It now makes up more than 1 in 2 infections in the Northeast and is believed to have the "most growth advantage" over BA.5, which was the dominant strain for months. Read more about XBB here

2. Cases and hospitalizations in the U.S. have leveled off in the last week, according to HHS data compiled by the Times. The daily average for cases was 67,215 as of Dec. 27. Meanwhile, the daily average for hospitalizations has hovered around 40,000 for the past week after a month of growth. It's unclear how the aftermath of holiday gatherings may affect this trajectory. 


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