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US Eases Restrictions on International Travelers

Fully vaccinated inbound passengers will still need a pre-departure COVID-19 test, but will not be required to quarantine

The US has announced that it is easing restrictions on inbound international travel for visitors who can provide proof of vaccination. The new rules are set to go into effect in November, although no exact date has yet been announced.

Fully vaccinated travelers must still take a pre-departure COVID-19 test within three days of their flight, but will not be required to quarantine upon arrival. Arriving passengers will also need to provide phone numbers and contact details for contact tracing, and masks must be worn for the journey to and from the United States.

The new rules replace the current 212f restrictions which prevent anyone from entering the US if they had been in 33 specific countries within the last 14 days. The countries on the list include the United Kingdom, Ireland, all Schengen countries, Brazil, South Africa, India and China.

The decision on which vaccines would be acceptable for entry into the US would be left up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients. When asked what vaccines it will accept, the CDC pointed to its prior guidance, according to reports by Reuters.

“The CDC considers someone fully vaccinated with any FDA-authorized or approved vaccines and any vaccines that the World Health Organization has authorized,” said spokesperson Kristen Nordlund. That list could change pending additions by either agency, she added.

Unvaccinated Americans traveling home from abroad will face tougher rules than vaccinated citizens. They will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within a day of travel and are required to purchase a viral test to be taken after arrival.

Separately, the Biden administration has extended its restrictions on nonessential travel across its land borders with Canada and Mexico through Oct. 21. So far, the US has not indicated whether the new vaccine rules once enacted would apply to those land border crossings.

The US move comes on the heels of the UK government’s announcement that it is simplifying its own rules for inbound travelers. Beginning Oct 4, the new rules scrap the so-called traffic light system and drop the requirements for pre-travel testing for arriving passengers who have completed a full course of an approved vaccine.

Nevertheless, the news from the US came as a surprise to airlines and the wider travel industry, which had been campaigning for it for many months. As recently as July, the Biden administration had decided not to lift travel restrictions amid concerns over the rising number of coronavirus cases in the US and the spread of the highly transmissible COVID-19 delta variant.

“The prospect of the US lifting travel restrictions to restore transatlantic travel between the UK and U.S is welcome news – not just for hard-pressed airlines but for the wider travel and tourism sector, which has been decimated by COVID-19,” Julia Simpson, WTTC president and CEO, said. “It will finally enable families to reunite, business travelers to resume face-to-face meetings and for travel and tourism to return for Brits looking to travel to America.”

Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, welcomed the decision. “Today’s announcement is a major step forward. Allowing access to the US for those vaccinated will open travel to the US for many who have been locked out for the past 18 months,” Walsh said.

“This announcement marks a key shift in managing the risks of COVID-19 from blanket considerations at the national level to assessment of individual risk. The next challenge is finding a system to manage the risks for travelers who do not have access to vaccinations. Data points to testing as a solution,” he said.

“But it is also critical that governments accelerate the global rollout of vaccines and agree a global framework for travel where testing resources are focused on unvaccinated travelers. We must get back to a situation where the freedom to travel is available to all,” Walsh added.

“The Global Business Travel Association wholeheartedly applauds the Biden Administration’s announcement that it will relax the US ban for vaccinated travelers from the 26 Schengen countries, UK and Ireland by early November,” GBTA CEO Suzanne Neufang said in a statement.

“Travel bans and quarantines have greatly impacted business travel – a decline in global business travel spending for 2021 is forecast at approximately $550 billion, with a decline in the US estimated at $192 billion, due to the ongoing pandemic,” Neufang added. “Today’s announcement is welcome news and a large step forward in re-starting and accelerating the travel industry’s economic engine.”