The US announced on Monday that it will lift Covid travel bans on all air passengers in November if they are fully vaccinated and submit to testing and contact tracing.
President Joe Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, Jeffrey Zients, told reporters that the new “consistent approach” would go into effect “early November.”
The relaxation of travel restrictions, imposed by Donald Trump 18 months ago when the Covid-19 pandemic first broke out, represents a significant shift by Biden and responds to major demand from European allies at a time of strained diplomatic relations.
Numerous safeguards will remain in place to prevent the virus’s spread, which has already killed over 670,000 Americans and has resurfaced after what many hoped was a long-term decline earlier this year.
“Most importantly,” Zients said, “foreign nationals flying to the United States will be required to be fully vaccinated.”
It was unclear whether the new rule only applied to US-approved vaccines or if other brands, such as those produced in China or Russia, would also be eligible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to Zients, will make that determination.
Vehicle movement restrictions from Canada and Mexico will remain in effect. “We don’t have any new information on land border policies,” Zients said.
Passengers will be required to show proof of full vaccination before boarding flights to the United States, as well as proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within three days, according to Zients.
Americans who are not fully vaccinated will be allowed to enter, but only if they test negative within a day of travel.
Masks will be required on US-bound flights, and airlines will provide contact information to US health authorities.
“This new international travel system is based on science to ensure the safety of American international air travel,” Zients said.
The announcement was immediately welcomed by the trade group Airlines For Europe, which stated that “this decision will give a much-needed boost to trans-Atlantic traffic and tourism, as well as reunite families and friends.”
However, while it was widely expected that Biden would reopen borders to the European Union and the United Kingdom, the announcement is global in scope.
“This is true for all international travel,” Zients explained.
Only US citizens, residents, and foreigners with special visas are currently permitted to enter the US from most European countries.
The restriction has irritated both EU and British authorities. The European Union recommended on Monday that member states reimpose restrictions on American travellers who had previously been allowed to enter if vaccinated.
Biden’s decision comes on the eve of his speech to the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York, where the pandemic is expected to be the main topic.
It also comes at a time when Washington and Paris are at odds over Australia’s unexpected announcement that it will acquire US-built nuclear submarines as part of a new defence alliance, abandoning a previous French contract for conventionally powered submarines.
France has recalled its ambassador from Washington, accusing the Biden administration of betraying it.
However, US officials denied that the White House’s decision to travel was an attempt to soothe ruffled French feathers.