Washington: The US lifted restrictions on Monday on travel from a long list of countries including Mexico, Canada and most of Europe, allowing tourists to make long-delayed trips and family members to reconnect with loved ones after more than a year and a half apart because of the COVID-19.
Starting Monday, the US is accepting fully vaccinated travellers at airports and land borders, doing away with a COVID-19 restrictions that date back to the Trump administration.
The new rules allow air travel from previously restricted countries as long as the traveller has proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test. Land travel from Mexico and Canada will require proof of vaccination but no test.
The extraordinary US travel restrictions, first imposed in early 2020 to address the spread of COVID-19, had barred access to non-US citizens who within the last 14 days had been in Britain, the 26 Schengen countries in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.
All adult foreign nationals travelling to the US must be fully vaccinated before boarding their flight. Like before, travellers will still have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure to the US.
The airlines are required to verify vaccine records and match them against ID, and if they don’t, they could face fines of up to nearly $35,000 per violation.
Airlines will also collect information about passengers for contact tracing efforts. There will be CDC workers spot-checking travellers for compliance in the US. At land borders, Customs and Border Protection agents will check vaccine proof.
EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE VACCINATED?
Yes, with some exceptions. Children under 18 don’t need to be vaccinated but they do need to take a COVID test. Kids 2 and younger are exempt from testing requirements.
WHAT ABOUT ADULTS WHO AREN’T VACCINATED?
Since half the world remains unvaccinated, and vaccine distribution has been so skewed to rich countries, the Biden administration is leaving a loophole for people who live in countries where vaccines are scarce. That list includes about 50 countries where fewer than 10% of people have been vaccinated. Travellers from those countries will need permission from the US government to come, and it can’t be just for tourism or business travel. The US government says it will permit unvaccinated international visitors to enter the country if there is a humanitarian or emergency reason, such as an emergency medical evacuation. Those exceptions will be applied ``extremely narrowly’’ and require approval from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. There could also be a medical exception, with documentation from a doctor.
WHAT WILL AMERICANS HAVE TO DO?
Americans who are unvaccinated have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within one day of international travel. If you’re vaccinated, you need to take a test within three days of your departure, for both Americans and citizens of other countries. This does not apply to flights within the US
WHO IS GOING TO ENFORCE THE VACCINE RULES?
That’s up to airlines. They will have to verify vaccine records and match them against ID, and if they don’t, they could face fines of up to nearly $35,000 per violation. Airlines will also collect information about passengers for contact tracing efforts. There will be CDC workers spot-checking travellers for compliance in the US
WHICH VACCINES WILL LET YOU IN?
Most but not all of them. Any COVID-19 vaccine approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, which include the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines used in the US as well as most used overseas, such as AstraZeneca and China’s Sinovac. Not currently allowed is Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which is authorized in 70 countries. The WHO is reviewing Sputnik but hasn’t approved it.
WHAT IF YOU DRIVE IN FROM MEXICO OR CANADA, OR TAKE A FERRY?
The land borders have only been open for “essential” travel. Now, anyone can come, if they’re vaccinated against COVID. Be prepared to show proof of the shot to Customs and Border Protection agents. Children are exempt from the requirement.
HOW WILL THIS AFFECT TRAVEL?
While the administration is characterizing this as a reopening, some people who were technically allowed to fly to the US earlier in the pandemic are now blocked because of their vaccination status. Other roadblocks to normal travel resuming are big delays in issuing US visas, which people in most countries need to visit the US for business and tourism, and restrictions in other countries that make travel difficult.
Even though people coming from China will now be allowed into the US, for example, not many are expected to travel because of restrictions at home. Before the pandemic, Chinese tourists were a lucrative market for the US travel industry.
Industry experts do expect a big influx in people flying from Europe, and hope that a broader recovery in travel follows as more people globally get vaccinated, US visa processing speeds up, other countries lift their own restrictions and people feel less scared about getting COVID because of travel.
Trade group US Travel said the countries accounted for 53% of all overseas visitors to the United States in 2019.
The unprecedented ban had dealt a huge blow to tourism but also kept friends and families from attending weddings, funerals, or meeting new babies.
From Monday, travellers who can show official proof of vaccination and a recent, negative viral test can fly to the United States, and many headed to airports in London, Paris and beyond.
“We went from zero activity to one that is similar to October 2019 levels, so before COVID,” said Jerome Thomann, of Paris-based Jetset Voyages travel agency, which specialises in trips to North America.
There are expected to be few if any empty seats on many of the international flights on Monday, and passenger volume is expected to remain high in coming weeks.
The reopening of the United States to British travellers will help all airlines operating between the two countries, but for UK-based trans-Atlantic-focused Virgin Atlantic, it means “the world”, its chief executive said.
“This is the market that is at the heart of everything that we do,” CEO Shai Weiss said in an interview.
The change will have a profound effect on the borders with Mexico and Canada, where travelling back and forth was a way of life until the pandemic hit and the US shut down nonessential travel.
Malls, restaurants and Main Street shops in US border towns have been devastated by the lack of visitors from Mexico. On the boundary with Canada, cross-border hockey rivalries were community traditions until being upended by the pandemic. Churches that had members on both sides of the border are hoping to welcome parishioners they haven’t seen during COVID-19 shutdown.
Loved ones have missed holidays, birthdays and funerals while nonessential air travel was barred, and they are now eager to reconnect.
River Robinson’s American partner wasn’t able to be in Canada for the birth of their baby boy 17 months ago because of pandemic-related border closures. She was thrilled to hear the U.S. is reopening its land crossings to vaccinated travelers.
“I’m planning to take my baby down for the American Thanksgiving,’’ said Robinson, who lives in St. Thomas, Ontario. “If all goes smoothly at the border I’ll plan on taking him down as much as I can. Is crazy to think he has a whole other side of the family he hasn’t even met yet.’’
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. will accept travelers who have been fully vaccinated with any of the vaccines approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, not just those in use in the US. That means that the AstraZeneca vaccine, widely used in Canada, will be accepted.