The United States is finally relaxing its COVID-19 travel restrictions for international travellers, with the Biden administration announcing on Monday that vaccinated individuals from the United Kingdom and the European Union will be permitted to enter the U.S. from November onwards.
Travel restrictions into the United States were first imposed on travellers from China in early 2020, and were later extended to the rest of the world, including Canada and the U.K.
Under current rules, most non-U.S. citizens who have been in the U.K. and a number of other European countries, as well as China, India, South Africa, Iran, and Brazil are not permitted to enter if they have been in any of these other countries within the last 14 days.
The decision to permit travel from Europe into the United States comes amid pressure from America’s European allies, including U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who celebrated the news on social media.
“I am delighted that from November, [President Biden] is reinstating transatlantic travel so fully vaccinated UK nationals can visit the USA,” Johnson tweeted. “It’s a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again.”
Travellers to the U.S. will be allowed entry if they are both vaccinated and undergo COVID-19 testing and agree to “contact tracing.” Unlike entry into Canada or Australia, travellers will not be required to quarantine. The BBC reported that there will be exceptions to the new travel rules, such as for children who are not eligible for vaccination.
A White House source told the BBC that the question of whether people who have had the AstraZeneca vaccine or 12- to 18-year-olds who have only had one jab would be allowed in under the new rules was a level of "granular detail" that was still being worked out, though this would affect millions.
Americans who are not fully vaccinated will still be able to enter, but they will need to be tested before their return to the US, and after they arrive home.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Ziets, who announced the new rules, did not specify whether only U.S. approved vaccines would be accepted. He said that the rules would enter into force in early November, providing time for agencies and airlines to prepare for the transition.
“The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to issue a contact tracing order requiring airlines to collect information from US-bound travelers, including a phone number and email address, to alert travelers of potential exposure,” CNN reported. “Airlines will be required to keep contact tracing information for 30 days.”
“This will enable CDC and state and local public health officials to follow up with inbound travelers and those around them if someone has potentially been exposed to Covid-19 and other pathogens,” Zients said, noting that the tracing requirement would be used more broadly in the future in order to protect “against any future public health threats.”
“Today nearly 6 billion shots have been administered globally and dozens of countries have strong vaccination rates. Vaccines continue to show that they’re highly effective, including against the delta variant,” Zients said, noting the vaccination rates on an international scale made the new policy possible.
“Today’s travel announcement is great news for families and businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. We are grateful the US has recognized the progress the UK has made against COVID-19, including high vaccination rates and declining cases. This decision means that more Brits can reunite with loved ones in the United States, more British holidaymakers can spend their hard-earned pounds in the American tourism sector, and more business activity can boost both of our economies,” said the British ambassador to the U.S., Karen Pierce, in a statement.