The Biden administration is lifting its requirement that all travelers test negative for coronavirus before flying to the US, amid pressure from airlines that viewed the measure as excessive and blamed it for depressing ticket purchases.

The change will take effect just after midnight on June 12 and be reassessed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 90 days, according to a senior administration official who requested anonymity to detail the plan before it was formally announced. 

Under existing policy, international travelers flying to the US are required to present proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within a day of their departure flight to the US.

The health agency may decide to reinstate the requirement if a new, concerning variant of the virus emerges, the official said. The administration will continue to recommend testing prior to air travel, but believes that coronavirus vaccines and new treatments made it possible to ease the requirement.

Airline stocks climbed briefly on the news, with an S&P index of carriers rising less than one per cent Friday morning before turning negative amid a broader slump in equities. 

Top airline executives have said in recent weeks that flyers were concerned about the risk of booking international travel only to become stranded in foreign countries. While domestic airline ticket purchases have largely rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, international trips have not. The U.S. Travel Association estimated that eliminating the requirement could bring 5.4 million visitors to the US and an additional US$9 billion in travel spending through the remainder of the calendar year.

“Today marks another huge step forward for the recovery of inbound air travel and the return of international travel to the United States,” US Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said in an emailed statement. “The Biden administration is to be commended for this action, which will welcome back visitors from around the world and accelerate the recovery of the US travel industry.”

The travel and tourism industry has traditionally supported one in 20 US jobs, either directly or indirectly, creating US$1.9 trillion in economic activity in 2019, the Commerce Department said in a fact sheet this week.

But the COVID-19 pandemic cut deeply into the industry. Even with a partial recovery, spending by international visitors in 2021 was only 34 per cent -- US$81 billion -- of pre-pandemic levels, the Commerce Department said.

“It’s huge for the industry,” Helane Becker, a senior research analyst at Cowen, said Friday in an appearance on Bloomberg Television. The change should have “huge positive effects on international travel right into the fall,” she said.