US easing foreign travel restrictions, requiring vaccines for other nationals flying into country

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will ease foreign travel restrictions into the U.S. beginning in November, when his administration will require all foreign nationals flying into the country to be fully vaccinated.

All foreign travelers flying to the U.S. will need to demonstrate proof of vaccination before boarding, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of flight, said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients, who announced the new policy on Monday.

Biden will also tighten testing rules for unvaccinated American citizens, who will need to be tested within a day before returning to the U.S. as well as after they arrive home.

Fully vaccinated passengers will not be required to quarantine, Zeints said.

The new policy replaces a patchwork of travel restrictions first instituted by President Donald Trump last year and tightened by Biden earlier this year that restrict travel by non-citizens who have in the prior 14 days been in the United Kingdom, European Union, China, India, Iran, Republic of Ireland, Brazil and South Africa.

“This is based on individuals rather than a country-based approach, so it’s a stronger system,” Zients said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will also require airlines to collect contact information from international travelers to facilitate contact tracing, Zients said.

It was not immediately clear which vaccines would be acceptable under the U.S. system and whether those unapproved in the U.S. could be used. Zients said that decision would be up to the CDC.

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

“Some people might be thinking, ‘Oh no, you know where got these people coming from different countries,’ but they’re going to have some strict qualifications, as well, just like we do to travel there,” said JoAnne Weeks, vacations director at Acendas Travel in Mission, Kansas.

In 2019, the number of European travelers coming to the states was at almost 80 million people, according to Weeks. Last year, it was just under 2 million.

“So that’s a huge amount of difference as far as tourism is concerned, commerce is concerned, families you know visiting one another,” Weeks said. “It’s quite a drastic impact.”

Nick Chabarria with AAA said they’re seeing an increase in travel.

“Some of our AAA travel bookings have returned to 2019 levels pre-pandemic levels,” Chabarria said.

Weeks said unvaccinated Americans can also plan to quarantine upon arrival in many other countries, as well as lots of testing. One vaccinated client recently went on a cruise, stopping at several locations, and was tested eight times from beginning to end.

Weeks suggests only visiting one country for international travel. 

“It’s definitely nothing like travel used to be,” Weeks said, “but we’ve heard once they get over there, it’s great.”

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