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US to end travel ban for fully vaccinated passengers in early November

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The United States will re-open to air passengers from China, India, Britain and other European countries who have received Covid-19 vaccines in early November, the White House said Monday, rolling back tough pandemic-related travel restrictions that started early last year.

The White House plans to allow non-US citizen travellers from countries who have been barred from the United States since early 2020 as it moves to the new requirements, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said.

The US restrictions were first imposed on travelers from China in January 2020 by then-president Donald Trump and extended to other countries in the following months, without any clear metrics for how and when to lift them.

President Joe Biden in April of this year added new travel restrictions on India, barring most non-US citizens from entering the United States. Biden also reversed plans by Trump in January to lift restrictions on European countries.

The United States currently bars most non-US citizens who within the last 14 days have been in Britain, the 26 Schengen countries in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.

There will be some exceptions to the vaccine policy, officials said, including for children not yet eligible to be vaccinated. The new rules do not yet apply to travelers crossing land borders with Mexico and Canada.

Zients said passengers will need to show they were fully vaccinated before boarding planes to the US, as well as providing proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within three days.

Americans not fully vaccinated will still be able to enter but only on testing negative within a day of travel.

Masks will be obligatory on US-bound flights and airlines will provide the US health authorities with contact tracing information.

“This new international travel system follows the science to keep Americans’ international air travel safe,” Zients said.

Europe, airlines welcome announcement

Airlines have heavily lobbied the White House for months to lift the restrictions, but were unsuccessful at having them lifted in time for the summer travel season. The White House said in July it had concerns about the highly infectious coronavirus Delta variant and a rising number of US Covid-19 cases.

The restriction had deeply irked EU and British authorities. On Monday, the European Union recommended that member states reimpose restrictions on American travelers who had earlier been free to enter if vaccinated.

The announcement to lift restrictions on vaccinated people was quickly welcomed by several European countries as well as the trade group Airlines For Europe, which said “this decision will give a much-needed boost to trans-Atlantic traffic and tourism and will reunite families and friends”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, currently in the US on a visit, tweeted he was “delighted”, adding it was “a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond (Atlantic) can be reunited”.

German Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz also welcomed the announcement as a positive move for business and US-European ties.

“Great news – for German and European investments, our exports and transatlantic relations,” tweeted Scholz, who is also finance minister and the frontrunner in the race to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel after Sunday’s general election. 

Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said it was “a major milestone to the reopening of travel at scale, allowing consumers and businesses to book travel to the US with confidence”.

The new air travel policy will take effect in “early November”, Zients said, to allow airlines and travel partners time to prepare to implement the new protocols.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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