White House to relax travel restrictions for vaccinated international visitors

The Biden administration on Monday said it plans to ease restrictions on fully vaccinated international visitors beginning in early November.

All foreign visitors must be vaccinated against COVID-19, and must show proof of vaccination before boarding a U.S.-bound airline, White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said. He added that travelers must also provide a negative test taken no more than 72 hours prior to departure.

There will be no quarantine requirement, but Zients said there will be enhanced contact tracing, and masks will continue to be required on flights. Unvaccinated Americans will need to provide a negative test within one day of departure, and then test again when they arrive.

Currently, travel bans are in place based on specific regions, regardless of an individual’s vaccination status.

The administration will leave it up to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to determine which vaccines qualify, and the definition of “fully vaccinated.” CDC will also need to determine if there will be any exemptions, aside from children too young to be vaccinated.

Why now: Zients said the protocols will “protect Americans here at home, and enhance the safety of the international air travel system.” The new policy is possible because of the rising vaccination rates in other countries, he added.

“Today nearly 6 billion shots have been administered globally and dozens of countries have strong vaccination rates,” he said.

The announcement comes ahead of a White House global summit on COVID-19 vaccines, scheduled for Wednesday. The U.S. and other wealthy nations have been accused of hoarding doses and limiting international access with policies like proprietary agreements with drug companies. The U.S. is also facing criticism for pushing ahead with a plan to provide booster doses of the vaccine for all Americans, despite uncertain evidence of their effectiveness.

Significance: The announcement represents a major victory for the travel industry and for European governments who had been pushing for a change.

The Biden administration has kept strict bans on nonessential travel from overseas, even as other countries have opened up their borders to fully vaccinated Americans.

But still: Even as the administration announced the policy change, Zients said the land border with Canada would remain closed for at least another month.