WASHINGTON: The US announced it’ll lift Covid travel bans on all air passengers in November if they’re fully vaccinated and undergo testing and get in touch with tracing.
The unprecedented restrictions had kept relatives, friends and business travelers around the world separated for several months because the pandemic grinds on.
Jeffrey Zients, a coronavirus response coordinator for President Joe Biden, told reporters the new “consistent approach” would become “early November.”
The easing of travel restrictions, imposed by Donald Trump 18 months ago because the Covid-19 pandemic first erupted, marks a big shift by Biden and answers a serious demand from European allies at a time of strained diplomatic relations.
Numerous safeguards will remain in situ to suppress the spread of the virus, which has already killed quite 670,000 Americans and is resurgent after what many had hoped was an enduring dip earlier this year.
“Most importantly, foreign nationals flying to the US are going to be required to be fully vaccinated,” Zients said.
It was not immediately clear if the new rule only applied to US-approved vaccines or if other brands, like those produced in China or Russia, would also qualify. Zients said that might be determined by the US Centers for Disease Control.
Restrictions on vehicle movement from Canada and Mexico will remain in situ. “We don’t have any updates on the land border policies,” Zients said.
Zients said passengers will be got to show they were fully vaccinated before boarding planes bound for the US, also as providing proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within three days.
Americans not fully vaccinated will still be ready to enter, but only on testing negative within each day of travel.
Masks are going to be obligatory on US-bound flights, and airlines will provide the US health authorities with contact tracing information.
“This new international travel system follows the science to stay Americans’ international aviation safe,” Zients said.
– ‘Great news’ –
Britain and Germany quickly welcomed the lifting of the near-total ban. The German ambassador to the US called it “great news.”
“Hugely important to market people-to-people contacts and transatlantic business,” Ambassador Emily Haber tweeted.
The announcement was also hailed by airlines, which have taken an enormous hit during the pandemic shutdown.
The trade group Airlines For Europe predicted “a much-needed boost to trans-Atlantic traffic & tourism and can reunite families and friends.”
And Doug Parker, CEO of yank Airlines, said: “We welcome the Biden administration’s science-based approach to start lifting the restrictions.”
While it had been widely expected that Biden would reopen borders to the ECU Union and Britain, the announcement covers the world.
“This applies to all or any international travel,” Zients said.
Currently, only US citizens, residents, and foreigners with special visas are allowed to enter the US from most European countries.
In an interview in Washington with AFP, Thierry Breton, European commissioner for the interior market, said he was hopeful the policy is going to be extended to incorporate the AstraZeneca shot employed by many European nations, which has not been approved by US health authorities.
Breton said he spoke with Zients, who “sounded positive and optimistic.”
The restriction has deeply irked EU and British authorities. On Monday, the ECU Union recommended that member states reimpose restrictions on American travelers who had earlier been liberal to enter if vaccinated.
Breton said the restrictions “no longer made any sense.”
Despite Europe’s relatively high vaccination rates, “we are on equivalent restrictions as China, Iran, and other countries. It makes no sense in the least,” he said.
Biden’s move comes on the eve of his speech to the annual UN General Assembly in NY, where the pandemic is thanks to being the headline issue.
It also comes as Washington and Paris spar bitterly over Australia’s sudden announcement that it’ll acquire US-built nuclear submarines as a part of a replacement defense alliance, ditching a previous French contract for conventionally powered submarines.
France has recalled its ambassador from Washington and accused the Biden administration of stabbing it within the back.
However, US officials denied that the White House’s travel decision was an effort to smooth ruffled French feathers.
“This is basically driven by the science,” a State Department official said.