(Adds no CDC comment, task force meeting planned, Canada action)
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON, Jan 4 (Reuters) - A group representing major U.S. airlines on Monday backed a proposal by public health officials to implement a global testing program requiring negative tests before most international air passengers return to the United States, according to a letter seen by Reuters.
Airlines for America, which represents American Airlines , United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and other major carriers, also urged the Trump administration in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence "to move ahead with recommendations to rescind current entry restrictions on travelers from Europe, the United Kingdom and Brazil as soon as possible ... concurrently with the testing program."
In November, Reuters reported that the White House was considering rescinding restrictions that ban most non U.S. citizens from traveling to the United States from the 26 members of the Schengen area that allow travel across open borders in Europe, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Brazil.
"We believe a well-planned program focused on increasing testing of travelers to the United States will further these objectives in a much more effective way than the blanket travel restrictions currently in place," the airlines' letter said.
Airlines support a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) proposal to implement "a global program to require testing for travelers to the United States," the letter added.
A senior administration official said the CDC proposal to expand international testing requirements faces significant opposition at top levels of the administration, including in Pence's office. The White House coronavirus task force is expected to meet Tuesday and the issue is scheduled to be discussed, officials said.
The CDC on Dec. 28 began requiring all airline passengers arriving from Britain - including U.S. citizens - to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of departure.
A CDC spokeswoman declined to comment Monday but the agency said last week that "efforts are currently ongoing in the U.S. to assess the risk reduction associated with testing and other recommended preventative measures... and gain some level of agreement on standards for a harmonized approach to testing for international air travel."
Airlines are seeking at least 14 days before new requirements take effect and "consideration of inadequate testing and results availability in specific countries rather than a blanket worldwide requirement is also needed," the letter said.
Starting Thursday, Canada will require that air travelers five and older test negative for COVID-19 before arrival. (Reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Chris Reese, Nick Zieminski and David Gregorio)
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