US to lift restrictions on fully vaccinated international travellers in November

The US will relax entry rules for travellers from the UK and European Union who are vaccinated against Covid-19. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTIMES, REUTERS) - The Biden administration will lift travel restrictions starting in November on those from abroad who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, ending a travel ban implemented to limit the spread of the disease and reopening the United States to relatives who have been separated from families and employees from businesses.

The United States will admit fully vaccinated air travellers from the 26 so-called Schengen countries in Europe including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Greece, as well as Britain, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.

Foreign travellers who provide proof that they are fully vaccinated before boarding a flight will be able to fly to the US starting in "early November", Mr Jeff Zients, the White House pandemic coordinator, said on Monday (Sept 20).

"International travel is critical to connecting families and friends, to fueling small and large businesses, to promoting the open exchange ideas and culture," he said.

"That's why, with science and public health as our guide, we have developed a new international air travel system that both enhances the safety of Americans here at home and enhances the safety of international air travel."

Currently there are no restriction on travellers entering the US from Singapore. But travellers aged two years and above must test negative in a viral antigen or nucleic acid amplification test within 72 hours before their flights.

The US has restricted travel for foreigners looking to fly to the US from a group of European countries, Iran and China for more than a year.

Restrictions on non-US citizens were first imposed on air travellers from China in January 2020 by then-President Donald Trump and then extended to dozens of other countries, without any clear metrics for how and when to lift them.

Foreign nationals will need to present proof of vaccination before travel and will not be required to quarantine on arrival.

The White House said the final decision on what vaccines would be accepted is up to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC on Monday pointed to its prior guidance when asked what vaccines it will accept.

"The CDC considers someone fully vaccinated with any FDA-authorised or approved vaccines and any vaccines that (the World Health Organisation) has authorised," said spokesman Kristen Nordlund. That list could change pending additions by either agency, she said.

Mr Zients said fully vaccinated travellers will also need to show proof of a negative test for the coronavirus within three days before coming to the US.

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Unvaccinated Americans overseas aiming to travel home will have to clear stricter testing requirements.

They will need to test negative for the coronavirus one day before travelling to the US and will need to be tested again after arriving, Mr Zients said.

The CDC will also soon issue an order directing airlines to collect phone numbers and e-mail addresses of travellers for a new contact-tracing system.

The authorities will then follow up with the travellers after arrival to check if they are experiencing symptoms of the virus.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, currently in the US on a visit, tweeted he was "delighted", adding it was "a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond (Atlantic) can be reunited".

Newly appointed Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, accompanying Mr Johnson to the United Nations General Assembly in New York, called it "excellent news" for travellers to and from the United States.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the move was the work of "brilliant collaboration".

British officials had hoped the US President would announce a relaxation of restrictions when he came to Cornwall, England, in June for the Group of Seven summit meeting and were disappointed when he did not.

Their frustration has only deepened since then.

British officials note that the US had not imposed a similar ban on people from Caribbean nations, which had a higher rate of infection than Britain, or from Argentina, which had a lower percentage of its population vaccinated.

About 82 per cent of people in Britain above the age of 16 have had two Covid-19 shots.

Britain has been one of the worst affected countries in the world, with more than 135,000 deaths, but more than 80 per cent of all people aged over 16 have now been double jabbed.

German Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz also welcomed US plans to lift Covid-19 travel bans for vaccinated air passengers as positive for business and US-European ties.

"Great news - for German and European investments, our exports and transatlantic relations," tweeted Mr Scholz, who is also finance minister and the front runner in the race to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel after Sunday's general election.

The European Union and have Britain both allowed fully vaccinated people from the US to travel without quarantine and officials there were annoyed when the US did not reciprocate.

The ban, European officials point out, has kept families separated since March last year, when former President Donald Trump first announced it, as the coronavirus was erupting across Europe.

European countries have weathered a third wave of infections propelled by the Delta variant.

But in several countries, including Britain, infection rates have begun to level off and even decline.

The EU welcomed the US announcement on Monday.

"A long-awaited step for separated families & friends, and good news for business," the 27-nation bloc's executive Commission said on Twitter.

With input from The Straits Times

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