Travel industry leaders and governments across the tourism-dependent Caribbean are scrambling to figure out how a new testing requirement for passengers flying into the U.S. will affect them.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced this week that as of Jan. 26, all international passengers arriving into the U.S. will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, or recovery from the virus. The test will need to be taken no more than three days prior to departure.
The measures are designed to help slow the spread of the virus. But they also risk having U.S. travelers stranded in countries where testing isn't easily accessible, and could further decimate international air travel in a region already struggling to recover from the pandemic's economic fallout.
Even more worrisome is the potential burden the new measures might pose on already strained health systems. Ten months into the pandemic, most countries in the Caribbean and Latin America are struggling to keep up with testing demands as two new variants emerge in the hemisphere and the number of COVID-19 infections sharply increases in one of the world's worst hit regions.
"These growing changes within testing requirements within the travel industry will undoubtedly cause a setback in the economic recovery of small vulnerable destinations globally," Jamaica's Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said, as he announced the country's plans to ramp up testing to meet the CDC's new requirement.
"These adjustments will place added pressure on the resources needed to treat our citizens, especially in countries that have made considerable efforts to successfully bolster their health and safety standards to insulate tourists and citizens alike."
The CDC requirement expands on an earlier one for passengers arriving from the United Kingdom and applies to visitors as well as U.S. citizens and permanent residents. The test can either be a viral reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, RT-PCR, COVID-19 test or a rapid antigen test.
Latin America and the Caribbean are Miami's largest feeder market, with more than half of international overnight visitors to Miami-Dade County coming from the region in 2019, according to research from the county's tourism marketing agency.
Though countries began opening their doors last year after months of lockdown, and many required negative COVID-19 tests for visiting foreigners, they benefited from the fact the U.S. had no such testing requirement —until now.
New CDC requirement comes amid COVID-19 uptick in the Americas