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WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 (Reuters) – (This September 15 news item has been rewritten to correct the headline misspelling)
The United States is developing a “new system for international travel” that will include tracking contacts for when it finally lifts travel restrictions that prevent much of the world’s population from entering the country, a senior US official said on Wednesday.
White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients told the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Council that the administration does not plan to immediately relax any travel restrictions citing cases of COVID-19 Delta variants in the United States and around the world.
Reuters first reported in early August that the White House was developing vaccine entry requirements that could cover almost all foreign visitors. The White House previously confirmed that it was considering forcing vaccines on foreign international visitors.
“The American people need to be confident that the new international travel system is safer even though we, I mean at the time, will let more travelers in,” Zients said Wednesday, adding that it will eventually replace existing restrictions.
“We are studying considering vaccination requirements for foreign nationals traveling to the United States,” Zients said.
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said at the same meeting that the increase in COVID-19 cases is preventing the lifting of international travel restrictions. “We want to move to a metrics-based system,” Raimondo said. “Before we can do that, we need to better manage the domestic situation, which forces us to vaccinate everyone.”
Zients said the new plan would replace current restrictions and be “safer, stronger and more sustainable.” He did not set out specific metrics for when the administration could relax the restrictions.
“Vaccination rates are important here at home and in other countries,” Zients said, urging travel companies such as airlines to quickly force employee vaccinations.
Some industry officials fear the Biden administration will not lift travel restrictions for months or potentially until 2022.
Extraordinary U.S. travel restrictions were first imposed on China in January 2020 to deal with the spread of COVID-19. Many other countries have been added, most recently India, in May.
The administration wanted to lift travel restrictions “as soon as we can,” Zients said.
TRACK OF CONTACTS
Zients said the new system will include the collection of contact tracking data from passengers traveling to the United States to allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to contact travelers if they are exposed to COVID-19.
The Trump administration in 2020 blocked an effort to require airlines to collect contact tracking information from international passengers bound for the United States after some senior administration officials cited privacy issues.
Zients said they want the new system to be “ready to continue” when it is safe to lift restrictions. “We understand the importance of that,” Zients said.
The United States currently bans the majority of non-US citizens who have been in the United Kingdom for the past 14 days, in the 26 Schengen countries of Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil. .
The United States separately prohibits non-essential travel by most non-US citizens to the U.S. land borders with Mexico and Canada.
Critics say the restrictions no longer make sense because some countries with high rates of COVID-19 infections are not on the restricted list, while some countries on the list have the pandemic under control.
(This story is being corrected again to correct the spelling of the title)
Report by David Shepardson Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Bernadette Baum and Aurora Ellis
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