US to lift restrictions on vaccinated international travelers

The New York Times
New YorkWritten By: Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Mark Landler © 2021 The New York Times CompanyUpdated: Sep 21, 2021, 12:31 AM IST

Germany has banned most travellers from Britain to contain Omicron variant’s spread (representative image). Photograph:(AFP)

Story highlights

In November, the Biden administration will lift travel restrictions on foreigners, who are fully vaccinated against the Covid. The move will reopen the country to thousands of people, including those who have been separated from family during the pandemic

The Biden administration will lift travel restrictions starting in November on foreigners who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, reopening the country to thousands of people, including those who have been separated from family in the United States during the pandemic.

The foreign travelers will need to show proof of vaccination before boarding and a negative test for the coronavirus within three days before coming to the United States, Jeff Zients, the White House pandemic coordinator, said Monday.

“International travel is critical to connecting families and friends, to fueling small and large businesses, to promoting the open exchange" of ideas and culture, Zients said. “That’s why, with science and public health as our guide, we have developed a new international air travel system that both enhances the safety of Americans here at home and enhances the safety of international air travel.”

The administration has restricted travel for foreigners looking to fly to the United States from a group of European countries, Iran and China for more than a year.

Unvaccinated Americans overseas aiming to travel home will have to clear stricter testing requirements. They will need to test negative for the coronavirus one day before traveling to the United States and show proof that they have bought a test to take after arriving in the United States, Zients said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will also soon issue an order directing airlines to collect phone numbers and email addresses of travelers for a new contact-tracing system. Authorities will then follow up with the travelers after arrival to ask whether they are experiencing symptoms of the virus.

The changes announced Monday only apply to air travel and do not affect restrictions along the land border, Zients said.

The Trump administration began implementing the travel bans against foreign travelers in January 2020 in the hopes of preventing the spread of disease. The effort was largely unsuccessful. The prior administration’s mangled announcements over the restrictions also led to exoduses of American citizens, with packed, chaotic airports that had porous screenings.

President Joe Biden has kept the restrictions against potential travelers from the European Union, Britain, India and others, despite pleas from business leaders in need of profits from tourism, immigrant workers who traveled overseas to renew work visas to work in the United States only to be left stranded and citizens left separated from their romantic partners abroad.

The White House maintained the restrictions were necessary, particularly after the spread of the contagious delta variant this summer fueled a rise of coronavirus cases and undermined the central theme of Biden’s presidency — vaccinating Americans and getting the pandemic under control.

Zients cited the pace of vaccinations administered globally as a reason for the administration’s pivot. The decision also comes on the eve of a visit by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was expected to press Biden to lift the ban. British officials had hoped the president would announce a relaxation of restrictions when he came to Cornwall, England, in June for the Group of 7 summit and were disappointed when he did not. Their frustration has only deepened since then.

The easing of the travel restrictions also comes as the administration has sought to reduce tensions with another ally in France after the United States kept Paris in the dark as it secretly negotiated an agreement with Australia to build nuclear submarines.

British officials note that the United States had not imposed a similar ban on people from Caribbean nations, which had a higher rate of infection than Britain, or from Argentina, which had lower percentage of its population vaccinated. About 82% of people in Britain older than 16 have had two shots.

Britain and several European Union countries allow fully vaccinated people from the United States to travel without quarantining, and officials there were annoyed when the United States did not reciprocate.

The ban, European officials point out, has kept families separated since early 2020, as the coronavirus was erupting across Europe. European countries have weathered a third wave of infections propelled by the delta variant. But in several countries, including Britain, infection rates have begun to level off and even decline.

After the announcement, Giovanni Vincenti, 42, an Italian professor who lives in Baltimore, thought about how his grandparents abroad would finally get to meet his daughter, who was born last May.

“I am trying not to cry because it’s such a beautiful day,” Vincenti said. On Monday, Vincenti’s wife, who is a Polish researcher on vaccines, was already on her computer trying to book a flight for her mother.