US to lift curbs on Nov 8 for jabbed travellers

US to lift curbs on Nov 8 for jabbed travellers

New policy eliminates patchwork of rules that had kept borders closed for months to EU nations and others

Air travellers make their way past a sign reminding them of Covid rules at Phoenix international airport in Arizona on Sept 24. (Reuters Photo)
Air travellers make their way past a sign reminding them of Covid rules at Phoenix international airport in Arizona on Sept 24. (Reuters Photo)

WASHINGTON: The White House on Friday announced it will lift travel restrictions for fully vaccinated foreign nationals effective Nov 8, at land borders and for air travel.

“This policy is guided by public health, stringent and consistent,” White House assistant press secretary Kevin Munoz said in announcing the news.

In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, US borders were closed after March 2020 to travellers from much of the globe, including the European Union, Britain and China, India and Brazil. Overland visitors from Mexico and Canada were also banned.

The months of restrictions led to both personal and economic suffering.

Under the new policy that was outlined last month, vaccinated air passengers will need to be tested within three days before travel, and airlines will be required to put in place a contact tracing system.

Restrictions on non-US citizens were first imposed on air travellers from China in January 2020 by then-President Donald Trump and then extended to those from dozens of other countries, without any clear criteria for how and when to lift them.

The United States had lagged many other countries in lifting such restrictions, and its allies have welcomed the move. The US restrictions have barred travellers from many parts of the world, including tens of thousands of foreign nationals with relatives or business links in the United States.

The White House on Tuesday announced that it would lift restrictions at its land borders and ferry crossings with Canada and Mexico for fully vaccinated foreign nationals in early November. They are similar but not identical to the requirements announced last month for international air travellers.

Unvaccinated visitors will still be barred from entering the United States from Canada or Mexico at land borders.

Canada on Aug 9 began allowing fully vaccinated US visitors for non-essential travel.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Reuters last week that the United States would accept the use by international visitors of Covid vaccines authorised by US regulators or the World Health Organization.

WHO-approved vaccines include Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer-BioNTech, two versions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, Sinopharm and Sinovac. It is not yet known how the US will deal with “mix and match” vaccinations involving two different types, an approach that has been common in Thailand and other countries including Canada.

The White House announced on Sept 20 that the United States would lift its restrictions on air travellers from 33 countries in early November. It did not disclose the precise date at the time.

Now it has said that starting on Nov 8, the US will admit fully vaccinated foreign air travellers from the 26 so-called Schengen countries in Europe, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Greece, as well as Britain, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil. The unprecedented restrictions had barred non-US citizens who were in those countries within the previous 14 days.

For more than a year and a half, the United States based decisions on which country a traveller was coming from. The new rules reorient groupings of who can and who cannot enter based on vaccination status.

Along with spurring many people from restricted countries to immediately plan trips to the United States, the new policies also eliminated the need for one of the odder workarounds that emerged during the pandemic: Travellers from prohibited countries spending two weeks in an intermediate country — often, Mexico or the Dominican Republic — and then obtaining a negative coronavirus test there before flying to the United States.

The United States has allowed foreign air travellers from more than 150 other countries throughout the pandemic, a policy that critics said made little sense because some countries with high Covid rates were not on the restricted list, while some on the list had the pandemic more under control.

The White House said last month that it would apply vaccine requirements to foreign nationals travelling from all other countries.

Non-US air travellers will need to show proof of vaccination before boarding a flight, and will need to show proof of a recent negative Covid test. Foreign visitors crossing a land border will not need to show proof of a recent negative Covid test.

The CDC plans to soon issue new rules on contact tracing for international air travellers.

Unvaccinated Americans will also be allowed to travel back to the US but will have to show proof of a negative coronavirus test within one day of their flight.

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