WASHINGTON (AP) — In a major easing of pandemic travel restrictions, the U.S. said Monday it will allow foreigners to fly into the country this fall if they have vaccination proof and a negative COVID-19 test — changes replacing a hodgepodge of rules that had kept out many non-citizens and irritated allies in Europe and beyond where virus cases are lower.
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 US. The changes will allow families and others who have been separated by the travel restrictions for 18 months to plan for long-awaited reunifications.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients announced the new policies, which still will require all foreign travellers flying to the US to demonstrate proof of vaccination before boarding, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of flight. Biden will also tighten testing rules for unvaccinated American citizens, who will need to be tested within a day before returning to the US, as well as after they arrive home.
Fully vaccinated passengers will not be required to quarantine, Zients said.
The new policy will replace the patchwork of travel bans first instituted by President Donald Trump last year and tightened by Biden 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 US. 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.
The EU and UK had previously moved to allow vaccinated US travellers into their territories without quarantines, in an effort to boost business and tourism travel. But the EU recommended last month that some travel restrictions be reimposed on US travellers to the bloc because of the rampant spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus in America.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will also require airlines to collect contact information from international travellers to facilitate tracing, Zients said.
It was not immediately clear which vaccines would be acceptable under the US-system and whether those unapproved in the US could be used. Zients said that decision would be up to the CDC.
Zients said there would be no immediate changes to the US land border policies, which continue to restrict much cross-border travel with Mexico and Canada.
Britain welcomed the US 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.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted that the move was “excellent news for travellers from the UK to the US. Important for our economic recovery, families and trade.”
Britain scrapped quarantines for fully vaccinated travellers from the US and the European Union in early August, and has been pushing for Washington to ease its rules. But Johnson said Sunday that he did not expect the change to come this week.
Airlines hailed the US decision as a lifeline for the struggling industry. Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK 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 US with confidence.”
“The UK will now be able to strengthen ties with our most important economic partner, the US, boosting trade and tourism as well as reuniting friends, families and business colleagues,” Weiss said.
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.