The United States on Monday announced a new international air travel system, which opened travel for all vaccinated foreigners in early November, including those currently affected by the U.S. travel ban.
“This vaccination requirement deploys the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of the virus,” said Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 response coordinator. “Vaccines continue to prove to be very effective, even against the delta variant, and the new system allows us to implement strict protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Passengers will be required to show a complete vaccination test before boarding aircraft bound for the United States. A COVID-19 test will also continue to be required within three days of departure and negative results must be demonstrated. Contact tracking and masking will also need to be improved, but there will be no quarantine mandate.
The new policy also adds stricter test requirements for unvaccinated U.S. travelers, who will have to take the test within the day after departure and again after arrival.
Zients said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will publish a list of accepted vaccines before the new policy goes into effect, as well as a contact tracking order that requires airlines to collect information such as phone numbers. and email addresses of all travelers to the United States. .
“This will allow CDCs and state and local public health officials to track incoming travelers and those around them, as someone has been potentially exposed to COVID-19 or other pathogens,” Zients said. “It will also strengthen our public health surveillance system against any future threat to public health.”
Vaccinated Americans are still subject to the CDC requirement, set in January, to test negative for COVID-19 no more than three days before an international flight to the U.S.
The US ban on non-essential travel has been in place since early 2020, starting in China and extending to visitors from the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the 29 regions of the European Schengen region, the Iran, Brazil, South Africa and India.
European Union Ambassador to the United States Stavros Lambrinidis hinted at the decision on Twitter earlier Monday, before sharing the news: “Travel ban lifted! Pre-flight vaccinated and tested Europeans will be able to travel again in the US from November, just like vaccinated Americans. Today they are allowed to travel to the EU. “
Slow to open the US
The United States has been one of the slowest countries to lift its travel restrictions. While Canada reopened its land borders to U.S. travelers in early August, the U.S. has yet to announce when it will ease its land border restrictions. And while European countries eased travel restrictions on U.S. travelers in the early summer months, the ban on traveling to the United States remained firm.
In mid-July, when the country was under increasing pressure from European capitals and travel industry leaders to lift the travel ban, President Joe Biden said his response team was reviewing travel restrictions and suggested that changes will be announced in the coming days. White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted later that month that there were “ongoing working groups” focused on how to reopen international travel to the United States.
But as COVID-19 cases began to rise once again, the administration turned around and announced that travel restrictions would be maintained.
“Given where we are today … with the delta variant, we will maintain the existing travel restrictions at this time for some reason,” Psaki said at a news conference in late July.
The United States has already reported more deaths from COVID-19 in September than in all of August, averaging nearly 2,000 deaths a day, according to the USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data.
“Travel bans are a bit silly”
In recent months, countries banning travel to the United States, such as Italy, France, Spain, and Sweden, have tightened entry requirements for U.S. travelers due to increased COVID-19 cases. . Quarantine warrants, vaccine requirements, and outright bans are some of the restrictions now facing international travelers from the United States.
Critics and health experts have also questioned the effectiveness of travel bans, especially after the United States took its fourth increase in COVID-19 with current mandates.
When the COVID-19 case count is high, “travel bans are really nonsense,” Susan Hassig, an epidemiologist at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, told USA TODAY. “We already have more than enough viruses circulating.”
Hassig said the new travel policy “makes a lot of sense” and is a “substantial and relevant step forward,” but that it could be strengthened with a quarantine mandate.
“I wish I had seen a forty-three-day finish on arrival, whether you’re returning to an American national or a foreigner … especially with the delta still circulating as much as it is,” he said. Hassig noted that travelers may become infected the day before the trip, which could be too early to appear in a post-arrival test.
The travel industry, other countries “delighted” with the announcement
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday on Twitter that he was “delighted” to learn that the travel ban would lower vaccinated UK residents and described the new travel policy as a “fantastic boost for business and trade “.
The president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, Roger Dow, said the new policy should help revive the U.S. economy.
“This is a major turning point in virus management and will accelerate the recovery of the millions of travel-related jobs that have been lost due to international travel restrictions,” Dow said in a statement Monday. .
The CWA Flight Assistants Association, which represents about 50,000 flight attendants from 17 airlines, said the new policy “only increases (health) and safety” in air travel.
“We applaud the Biden administration for announcing plans to reunite families and open trips with strict procedures to ensure transportation does not help spread the virus,” AFA President Sara Nelson said in a statement Monday . “International travel is essential to the stability of our jobs and the full recovery of the U.S. airline industry, but recovery is only possible if we stay focused on safety and health first.”