Effective January 26, 2021, all international travellers (including Canadians) flying to the US are required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of departure, or validation from their physician that they have sufficiently recovered from infection by the coronavirus.
The rule, issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in effect reciprocates a similar one effective January 7, issued by the Canadian government for international travellers flying into Canada. But an important adjunct to the CDC rule that is causing some confusion among seniors already vaccinated against the coronavirus insists that their vaccination doesn’t exempt them from the negative test requirement.
It’s a head-scratcher, but it’s true. Even though you may have recently received your two jabs—either of the Pfizer/ BioNTech or the Moderna vaccine—you will still have to show proof of a negative test taken within three days of boarding your flight.
Says the CDC: “Before departure to the United States, a required test, combined with the CDC recommendations to get tested again 3–5 days after arrival and stay home for 7 days post-travel, will help slow the spread of COVID-19 within US communities from travel-related infections. Pre-departure testing with results known and acted upon before travel begins will help identify infected travellers before they board airplanes.
“Air passengers are required to get a viral test (a test for current infection) within the 3 days before their flight to the U.S. departs, and provide written documentation of their laboratory test result (paper or electronic copy) to the airline or provide documentation of having recovered from COVID-19. Airlines must confirm the negative test result for all passengers or documentation of recovery before they board. If a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger.”
Why no exemption for proof of vaccination?
The CDC explains that though the vaccines are expected to offer 90 to 95 per cent protection against getting symptoms of COVID or becoming ill, it is not yet totally clear that vaccinated persons are incapable of transmitting the virus to others. Trials to establish such proof are underway or planned, but their outcome still needs to be determined.
Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, stated in a recent TV interview, “I think we need to be careful, as we get vaccinated, not to over-interpret the results… Do I believe that it reduces transmission? Absolutely yes, and I say this because of the science… But absent proof, I think it’s important that we don’t change behaviors solely on the basis of vaccination.”
In the meantime, those are the rules. And don’t expect masking and social distancing protocols to become redundant any time soon, although there are enough variations in the rules from place to place that no matter where you intend to travel, you need to do your homework. The rules as they apply to a trip to Arizona or the UK may vary considerably from those for Jamaica, Mexico, or Costa Rica. Each location has its own variation of such rules. That’s where you need to focus your attention.
And above all, don’t forget the rules for coming back home.
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