The new rules will require all foreign nationals arriving in the United States to prove that they are fully vaccinated, said White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients. He said the new rules would come into effect in early November, a timeline that will give agencies and airlines “time to prepare.”
The lifting of general restrictions on travel to the United States from certain countries will be good news for thousands of foreign nationals with families in the United States who have been separated during most of the pandemic.
In addition to requiring vaccination, the administration said it was taking other steps to mitigate the spread of the virus in three other areas: testing, contact tracing and masking.
Fully vaccinated foreign nationals and US citizens returning from overseas to the United States will be required to take a pre-departure Covid-19 test within three days of their flight and prove a negative result before boarding. Unvaccinated Americans returning to the United States will be “subject to more stringent testing requirements,” Zients said, including testing within a day of departure and additional testing upon their return.
Fully vaccinated passengers will not be subject to a quarantine warrant upon arrival in the United States.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to issue a contact tracing order requiring airlines to collect information from travelers to the United States, including a phone number and e-mail address. mail, to alert travelers to potential exposure. Airlines will be required to retain contact tracing information for 30 days.
“This will allow CDC and state and local public health officials to track incoming travelers and their entourage if anyone has potentially been exposed to Covid-19 and other pathogens,” Zients said, adding that this new requirement will be used more widely. moving forward to help protect “against any future threat to public health”.
The new guidelines apply to all international travel. Zients said the White House would defer to the CDC on the definition of “fully vaccinated,” including on eligible vaccines. The AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is not yet approved for emergency use in the United States, but is widely used in Europe and the rest of the world.
The development is a first step towards bridging one of the many emerging rifts between the Biden administration and civil servants in Europe. A row has arisen between the United States and France over an agreement to equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, depriving France of a contract to supply conventional submarines. European leaders also noted the lack of consultations with the Biden team on Afghanistan.
It will also be welcomed by the travel industry, which had lobbied the federal government to lift some of the rules preventing international tourism. Airlines, hotels and hotel groups have all expressed support for allowing vaccinated tourists from overseas to return to the United States.
Zients maintained that the administration “takes no action on the table” when asked about the possibility of vaccination warrants for Americans traveling within the country. And he said there was no update to existing rules on land border crossings with Canada and Mexico.
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Travel bans to the United States were first imposed in the early days of the pandemic when then-President Donald Trump restricted travel from China in January 2020. This step did not occur. not prevented the virus from reaching the United States, but additional countries were added to the list as health officials urged the White House to limit entry to places with high case rates.
Trump added countries in the Schengen zone – which includes 26 European states, including France, Germany and Italy – as well as Ireland and the United Kingdom. Brazil, South Africa and India have been added separately. The land borders with Canada and Mexico have also been closed.
Biden had maintained strict bans on non-essential travel even as vaccination rates in Europe rose, citing the unpredictable nature of the pandemic and the emergence of the Delta variant.
But the system has proved exasperating for European governments, whose citizens of countries have always been barred from entering the United States, even as those countries have reduced their numbers of cases amid successful vaccination campaigns. Countries with higher cases that were not on the list were not subject to the rules.
Months of discussions
In recent months, travel restrictions on people wishing to enter the United States have turned into a major transatlantic divide. European leaders, frustrated by the apparent lack of progress, began to publicly voice their grievances. They said the rules hurt relations between Europe and the United States.
Europe opened its borders to Americans in June, but last month turned the tide, removing the United States from a safe list of countries whose citizens are exempt from quarantine or testing requirements. Anger over the lack of reciprocity on the part of the United States partly fueled the decision, European officials familiar with the matter said.
Biden took office promising to restore frayed alliances and spent much of a trip to Europe in June, proclaiming his commitment to transatlantic relations. He announced during that visit a series of task forces to consider reopening trips, but months have passed with little evidence for the effort.
Overseen by the White House Covid-19 Response Team and the National Security Council, the groups include representatives from the CDC as well as officials from the Departments of State, Health and Human Services, Security interior and Transport.
US officials were in partnership with officials from the European Union, UK, Canada and Mexico and have met on several occasions to discuss the reopening situation since the administration announced them at the start. of Biden’s first overseas trip in June. There were also several breakout conversations between these larger meetings to discuss specific issues, such as the epidemiological situation, variants, surveillance and vaccination efforts, and plans to change travel restrictions, said a White House official at CNN.
But some people familiar with the task forces had questioned their effectiveness, as other countries began to open up to Americans with little clarity on whether the United States would reciprocate. A source familiar with the discussions described a “paralysis among the agencies” over the next steps.
This story has been updated with additional reports.