After a few short months of progress, the summer surge in COVID-19 cases made it clear the pandemic was still far from over. As a result, some health officials began reinstating public health precautions such as mask-wearing in public. Others made it a requirement to be vaccinated to dine in a restaurant, exercise at a gym, visit a museum, or hold certain jobs. Now, a statement from the White House outlined how travel will be different for those who are unvaccinated as new regulations come into effect within weeks.
According to updated guidelines released by the Biden administration on Oct. 25, changes to current policy will bring stricter requirements for unvaccinated American citizens and legal permanent residents traveling abroad. As of Nov. 8, those who have not received their shots will be barred from reentering the country without procuring a negative COVID test within 24 hours of their departing flight to the U.S. Fully vaccinated American citizens will still be able to provide a negative test taken within three days of their return flight.
The incoming regulations also stipulate that all foreign nationals entering the U.S. must be fully vaccinated, except for those under the age of 18 who must still provide a negative COVID test. Non-citizens will also have to provide contact tracing information to airlines before they are allowed to cross the border.
"With science and public health as our guide, the United States has developed a new international air travel system that both enhances the safety of Americans here at home and enhances the safety of international air travel," the White House said in a statement.
Overall, the move signals a significant change in travel restrictions that have been in place for more than a year on many international travelers. This includes lifting a ban on foreign visitors from more than 30 countries initiated by former President Donald Trump in 2020 which was then extended and expanded by President Joe Biden earlier this year.
Under the current travel ban, most foreign nationals who have been in the U.K., Ireland, Brazil, South Africa, Iran, China, and 26 countries within the European Union within the past 14 days are currently barred from entering the U.S. India was also added to the list of countries in early May. However, the updated rules will essentially ban any unvaccinated visitors aged 18 or older from entering the U.S. when they go into effect, even if they arrive from countries that have not previously been under a travel ban.
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The latest update specified it will be the responsibility of airlines to verify vaccination and COVID testing status and enforce the policy. The statement also clarified that all vaccines approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) would be accepted, even those not yet approved for use in the U.S.
"These are strict safety protocols that follow the science and public health to advance the safety of Americans here at home and the safety of international air travel," a senior White House official said in a briefing with reporters, according to The Washington Post.