(CNN) — The United States plans to ease travel restrictions for all fully vaccinated foreign visitors starting in November, the White House announced Monday, easing a patchwork of bans that sparked outrage in Europe and replacing them with more uniform requirements for international air passengers seeking to enter the country.
The new rules will require all foreign nationals arriving in the United States to present proof that they are fully vaccinated, said White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients. Zients added that the new rules will come into force in early November, a deadline 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 the thousands of foreign nationals with families in the United States who have been separated for most of the pandemic.
The Financial Times newspaper was the first to report the news.
In addition to requiring vaccinations, the government said it was taking other steps to mitigate the spread of the virus in three other areas: testing, contact tracing and wearing masks.
Fully immunized foreign nationals and U.S. citizens returning to the U.S. from abroad will be required to take a COVID-19 test prior to flight departure and present proof of a negative result prior to 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 any quarantine mandate upon arrival in the United States.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) plans to issue a contact tracing order requiring airlines to collect information from travelers to the United States, including a phone number and a email address, to alert travelers of potential exposure to COVID-19. Airlines will have to retain contact tracing information for 30 days.
“This will allow the CDC and state and local public health officials to track incoming travelers and those around them in case anyone has been potentially exposed to COVID-19 and other pathogens,” said said Zients, who added that this new requirement will be used. more broadly in the future to help protect “against any future threats to public health”.
The new guidelines apply to all international travel. “Fully immunized,” according to the CDC, includes those who received not only vaccines approved for use in the United States, but also those listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization, but who did not have not yet received such approval in the United States, such as the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The development is a first step toward mending one of the many rifts that are emerging between the Biden administration and officials in Europe. A dispute has erupted 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 have also seen little consultation with Biden’s team on Afghanistan.
It will also be welcomed by the travel industry, which had pressed the federal government to lift some of the rules that were preventing international tourism. Airlines, hotels and hotel groups had expressed support for tourists vaccinated overseas being allowed to return to the United States.
Zients maintained that the administration is “not taking anything off the table” when asked about the possibility of establishing vaccination mandates for Americans traveling within the country. And he said existing rules on land border crossings with Canada and Mexico had not been updated.
Good news for many.
Travel bans to the United States were first imposed at the start of the pandemic, when then-President Donald Trump restricted travel from China in January 2020. This measure has not prevented the virus from reaching the United States, but other countries were added to the list as health officials lobbied the White House to limit entry from places with high case rates.
Trump added countries from 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 were added separately. Land borders with Canada and Mexico have also been closed.
Biden had maintained strict nonessential travel bans even as vaccination rates in Europe rose, citing the unpredictable nature of the pandemic and the emergence of the delta variant.
But the system proved infuriating for European governments, whose citizens were still barred from entering the United States, even as those countries reduced cases through successful vaccination campaigns. Countries with more cases that were not on the list were not subject to the rules.
months of discussions
In recent months, travel restrictions imposed on people wishing to enter the United States have become a major transatlantic violation. European leaders, frustrated by the apparent lack of progress, began to go public with their complaints, saying the rules were hurting relations between Europe and the United States.
Europe opened its borders to Americans in June, but last month backtracked and removed the United States from the list of safe countries whose citizens are exempt from quarantine or testing requirements. Anger over the lack of reciprocity from the United States partly fueled the decision, European officials familiar with the matter said.
Biden entered office promising to restore frayed alliances and spent much of a June trip to Europe proclaiming his commitment to transatlantic ties. During that visit, he announced a series of working groups to look at reopening travel, but the months that have passed haven’t helped much.
The COVID task forces, overseen by the White House COVID-19 Response Team and the National Security Council, include representatives from the CDC, officials from the Departments of State, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Transportation.
U.S. officials have joined with representatives from the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada and Mexico and have met several times to discuss the reopening situation since the administration announced them at the start of the Biden’s first foreign trip in June. There were also several small group conversations between these larger meetings to discuss specific topics, such as the epidemiological situation, variants, surveillance and vaccination efforts and plans to modify travel restrictions, said a White House manager at CNN.
But some people familiar with the task forces had questioned their effectiveness, as other countries began opening up to Americans unsure if the United States would reciprocate. A source familiar with the talks described an “inter-agency paralysis” over the next steps.