Biden easing foreign air travel restrictions, requiring vaccines

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President Joe Biden will ease foreign travel restrictions to the U.S. beginning in November, allowing foreigners to fly into the country if they have proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test, the White House said Monday.

The new rules will replace a hodgepodge of restrictions that had barred non-citizens who had been in Europe, much of Asia and certain other countries in the prior 14 days from entering the U.S. The changes will allow families and others who have been separated by the travel restrictions for 18 months to plan for long-awaited reunions.

The White House also indicated that restrictions on non-essential travel from Canada and Mexico through land borders will remain in place through Oct. 21.

All foreign travellers flying to the U.S. will need to demonstrate proof of vaccination before boarding, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of flight, said White House COVID-19 co-ordinator Jeff Zients, who announced the new policy on Monday.

There will be some exceptions to the vaccine policy, officials said, including for children not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

Biden will also tighten testing rules for unvaccinated American citizens, who will need to be tested within a day before returning to the U.S., as well as after they arrive home.

Fully vaccinated passengers will not be required to quarantine, Zeints said.

The new policy replaces a patchwork of travel restrictions first instituted by president Donald Trump last year and tightened by Biden earlier this year that restrict travel by non-citizens who have in the prior 14 days been in the United Kingdom, European Union, China, India, Iran, Republic of Ireland, Brazil and South Africa.

Those travel bans had become the source of growing geopolitical frustration, particularly among allies in the UK and EU where virus cases are far lower than the U.S. The easing comes ahead of Biden meeting with some European leaders on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly this week.

“This is based on individuals rather than a country-based approach, so it’s a stronger system,” Zients said.

Takes effect in November

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will also require airlines to collect contact information from international travellers to facilitate contact tracing, Zients said.

It was not immediately clear which vaccines would be acceptable under the U.S. system and whether those unapproved in the U.S. could be used. Zients said that decision would be up to the CDC.

The new air travel policy will take effect in “early November,” Zients said, to allow airlines and travel partners time to prepare to implement the new protocols.

‘Fantastic boost for business’

Britain welcomed the U.S. announcement that it is lifting quarantine requirements for vaccinated international travellers.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was “delighted” by the news. He said: “It’s a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again.”

Britain scrapped quarantines for fully vaccinated travellers from the U.S. and the European Union in early August, and has been pushing for Washington to ease its rules. 

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Airlines hailed the U.S. decision as a lifeline for the struggling industry. Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines U.K., said it was “a major breakthrough.”

Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said it was “a major milestone to the reopening of travel at scale, allowing consumers and businesses to book travel to the U.S. with confidence.”

“The U.K. will now be able to strengthen ties with our most important economic partner, the U.S., boosting trade and tourism as well as reuniting friends, families and business colleagues,” Weiss said.

Airlines have heavily lobbied the White House for months to lift the restrictions, but were unsuccessful at having them lifted in time for the summer travel season. The White House said in July it had concerns about the highly infectious coronavirus delta variant and a rising number of U.S. COVID-19 cases.

The seven-day average of reported U.S. COVID-19 cases has more than doubled since then.



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