The White House said it will lift Covid-19 travel restrictions for fully vaccinated international visitors starting November 8, ending historic restrictions that had barred much of the world from entering the United States for as long as 21 months.
he unprecedented travel restrictions kept millions of visitors out of the United States from Ireland, the UK, China, Canada, Mexico, India, Brazil, much of Europe and elsewhere.
They have also shrunk US tourism; and hurt border community economies. They prevented many loved ones and foreign workers from reuniting with families.
The new policy was announced last month, but it was not previously known when in November it would be implemented.
White House spokesman Kevin Munoz confirmed the November 8 date on Twitter, adding the policy “is guided by public health, stringent, and consistent.”
Non-US air travellers will need to show proof of vaccination before boarding a flight, and will need to show proof of a recent negative Covid-19 test, under the new rules.
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.
Curbs on non-essential travellers at land borders with Mexico and Canada have been in place since March 2020 to address the Covid-19 pandemic.
Airlines have seen an increase in international ticket sales in recent weeks after the White House announced plans to lift the restrictions, Nick Calio, chief executive of the Airlines for America industry trade group, said in a statement.
“The lifting of travel restrictions into the US from November 8 means that we can once again connect families, friends and businesses with the US,” said Susanne Carberry, Chief Customer Officer at Aer Lingus.
The airline used the occasion to announce the re-launch of its Dublin to San Francisco route from December 12.
Aer Lingus had flown over a dozen transatlantic routes before the pandemic. It is now back to seven, having welcomed back Newark, Orlando, Washington and Toronto Canada over the past weeks.
The United States had lagged many other countries in lifting such restrictions.
In January, Trump issued an order to lift travel restrictions on people in Europe and Brazil. But the order was reversed by President Joe Biden before it took effect.
The Biden administration, which repeatedly has said it does endorse so-called “vaccine passports,” grappled for months over whether to mandate vaccinations as a condition of lifting country-specific restrictions, officials told Reuters.
On Tuesday, the White House announced it would lift restrictions at its land borders and ferry crossings with Canada and Mexico for fully vaccinated foreign nationals in early November. They are similar but not identical to requirements announced last month for international air travellers.
Foreign visitors crossing a land border will not need to show proof of a recent negative test.
Unvaccinated visitors will still be barred from entering the United States from Canada or Mexico at land borders.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Reuters last week the United States will accept the use by international visitors of Covid-19 vaccines authorised by US regulators or the World Health Organisation.
The White House, which held a meeting late Thursday to finalise the November 8 date, faces some remaining questions, including how and what exemptions the Biden administration will grant to the vaccine requirements.
Children under 18, for example, are largely expected to be exempt from the requirements, an official said.
The new rules do not require foreign visitors or Americans entering the country to go into quarantine.
US Travel Association Chief Executive Roger Dow said declines in international visits since the pandemic started resulted in more than $250 billion in lost income.
Dow said in a statement that the November 8 date “is critically important for planning – for airlines, for travel-supported businesses, and for millions of travellers worldwide who will now advance plans to visit the United States once again.”
Starting Nov. 8, the United States will admit fully vaccinated foreign 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.
The unprecedented US restrictions have barred non-US citizens who were in those countries within the past 14 days.
The United States has allowed foreign air travellers from more than 150 countries throughout the pandemic, a policy that critics said made little sense because some countries with high infection rates were not on the restricted list, while some on the list had the pandemic more under control.
The White House said last month it would apply vaccine requirements to foreign nationals traveling from all other countries.
Americans traveling overseas must still show proof of a recent negative Covid-19 test, and unvaccinated Americans will face stricter testing requirements. They will also be subject to restrictions in countries they plan to visit, which may include quarantines.
The CDC plans to issue new rules soon on contact tracing for international air travellers.
– Additional lines by Pól Ó Conghaile