US confirms new COVID-19 travel rules

October 27, 2021
Photo: SITA

The Biden administration has confirmed that people protected by COVID vaccines recognized by the World Health Organization  — including AstraZeneca, Sinopharm and Sinovac — can take advantage of eased travel restrictions to the US starting November 8.

People who have received mixed recognized vaccinations will also be accepted but Russia’s Sputnik vaccination, which has been widely used in some countries, is not included.

US President Joe Biden signed a proclamation this week that lifts severe travel restrictions on 26 Schengen countries in Europe as well Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.

READ: Singapore extends its Vaccinated travel Lane to Australia

“It is in the interests of the United States to move away from the country-by-country restrictions previously applied during the Covid-19 pandemic and to adopt an air travel policy that relies primarily on vaccination to advance the safe resumption of international air travel to the United States,” the proclamation said.

The new rules contain requirements airlines must follow to confirm foreigners arriving in the US have been vaccinated.

International visitors will need to provide official vaccination documentation and must have received the last dose at least two weeks before travel. Anybody who lies about their vaccination status will be committing a criminal offense.

They will also need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test done within 72 hours of departure.

The new guidelines exempt children under 18 from vaccine requirements as well as people with medical issues. However, there is no exemption for people refusing to be vaccinated on religious grounds.

Also exempt are non-tourist arrivals from about 50 countries where there are vaccine shortages and the vaccination rate is less than 10 percent.  But they will need to have a government letter authorizing travel for a compelling reason, get vaccinated within 60 days of arrival and provide a negative test within a day of departure.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  will spot-check passengers for compliance and is issuing new contact tracing rules requiring airlines to collect information such as phone numbers, email and US addresses and retain it for 30 days in case follow-up is needed.

“This will allow airlines to better coordinate with public health agencies to share information when needed to keep the public safe and informed, and strengthen their ability to rapidly identify and contact people in the U.S. who may have been exposed to a communicable disease, such as COVID-19,’’ the CDC said in a statement.

Industry trade group Airlines for America (A4A) welcomed the changes.

U.S. airlines have been strong advocates for an individual risk-based system to safely ease travel restrictions, and we recognize that the safe reopening of borders is essential for our nation’s economic recovery.’’ A4A president Nicholas E. Calio said.

“The full reopening of international travel is also critical to reviving economies around the globe, reinvigorating communities and supporting millions of jobs in the US and abroad.

“We have seen an increase in ticket sales for international travel over the past weeks and are eager to begin safely reuniting the countless families, friends and colleagues who have not seen each other in nearly two years, if not longer.”