(Updated 4:47 p.m. EDT) – In a landmark move for the travel industry, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to drop its requirement for travelers to test negative for COVID-19 before entering the country, White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz confirmed Friday on Twitter.
The measure is expected to take effect at midnight on Sunday, June 12 for U.S.-bound air travelers. The testing requirement had been in place since January 2021 for air travel to the United States.
Re-entry testing was a major source of anxiety for American travelers hoping to cruise abroad -- and the ruling was hurting the cruise and travel industries overseas.
Cruise line presidents have attributed slower bookings in Europe to the re-entry testing requirement, as Americans were fearful of catching covid overseas and facing quarantines abroad. Virgin Voyages, in announcing the delay of its new Resilient Lady cruise ship into service earlier this week, cited prohibitive U.S. re-entry testing requirements as one reason the line elected to postpone the debut of its third vessel.
The travel industry -- including the cruise industry -- has lobbied for the removal of re-entry COVID-19 testing for months, citing that recent science and data justify a change in policy. The CDC is expected to reassess this decision in 90 days in case a new variant of the virus surfaces or any other relevant changes occur.
Travel leaders and companies were quick to celebrate the long-awaited announcement.
"This is a tremendous development that allows our guests to travel more easily and without stress," said John Padgett, president of Princess Cruises.
“We welcome the positive news from the U.S. government to lift the testing requirements for inbound travelers to the U.S. effective this Sunday, June 12," said Josh Leibowitz, president of Seabourn. "This change will give travelers more confidence to make plans to travel to worldwide destinations, and more importantly, our U.S. guests will have peace of mind knowing they will be able to return home without having to undergo testing requirements. In addition, our international guests will also have less stress when they book voyages departing from the U.S."
"We are thrilled to see the end of the CDC’s inbound testing rule, which has been standing in the way of our industry’s recovery for too long," said Zane Kerby, President and CEO of the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), one of the many organizations that have lobbied against the testing rule.
"We commend the Biden Administration for taking this long-overdue step and thank ASTA members across the country for their hard work in helping get this across the finish line. While plenty of challenges remain in terms of rebuilding the travel agency business, today is a great day."
“Since the start of the pandemic, our U.S. customers expressed that the testing requirement for re-entry is the number one thing holding them back from traveling internationally, and we’re thrilled that this barrier has been lifted,” said Ellen Bettridge, president & CEO of Uniworld.
COVID-19 Tests Still Required Pre-Cruise
While entry testing for air travel to the United States is poised to end, it is important to note that passengers embarking cruise ships leaving from a U.S. port of call will still need to present a negative antigen test taken no more than two days before embarkation, as today's announcement only applies to international air travel inbound to the United States.
In a statement, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) called for an end to the mandatory pre-cruise testing for ships departing from U.S. embarkation ports.
"As the CDC monitors the improving health landscape and works with airlines to support a smooth transition with the lifting of the pre-arrival testing requirement, we believe a review of pre-embarkation testing requirements for cruise travelers is also in order," CLIA told Cruise Critic in a statement issued Friday afternoon.
"Of the 79 million international visitors who traveled to the United States in 2019, approximately 2.5 million came to embark on a cruise holiday and generated $4.5 billion in spending to the U.S. economy. The decision announced today is a strong step forward in easing restrictions so that the cruise industry can continue to contribute to the rebounding of the U.S. economy."
Cruise Critic will update this article with more information as it becomes available.