White House unveils details of new international travel system to start Nov. 8

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Spectrum News: WASHINGTON, D.C.UPDATED 2:57 PM ET OCT. 25, 2021 PUBLISHED 2:00 PM ET OCT. 25, 2021

The White House on Monday outlined a new pandemic policy for international travel that will allow fully vaccinated foreign nationals to visit the United States under a modified system that will launch on Nov. 8 and open U.S. borders to people from dozens of countries that were previously blocked from travel.


What You Need To Know

Foreign travelers from dozens of previously-blocked countries will soon be able to visit the U.S. if they are fully vaccinated and show a negative COVID test result within three days
Unvaccinated U.S. citizens will face more stringent restrictions; they will be required to show a negative result within one day of their return from abroad
On Monday, the Biden administration released new CDC guidance and details for airlines to implement the new rules ahead of the Nov. 8 start date
The new policy includes limited exceptions, such as for children, medical exemptions and for those who have a reason to travel to the U.S. but come from a country with low vaccine availability

The new travel system will require nearly all foreign visitors to be fully vaccinated and show a negative COVID-19 test result within three days of their departure. Vaccinated U.S. citizens and residents must also show a negative test result within a three-day window, while unvaccinated U.S. citizens and residents will be required to show a negative result within one day of their return from abroad. 

On Monday, the Biden administration released new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance and details for airlines to implement the new rules ahead of the Nov. 8 start date, opening the country to people from Canada, Mexico, Brazil, China, Europe and other countries previously banned from U.S. travel.

Travelers will be considered fully vaccinated if they’re two weeks past the full regimen of the vaccines authorized by the Food and Drug Administration — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson — or those listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization, such as AstraZeneca/Oxford.

The CDC issued three orders Monday on vaccination, testing and contact tracing, “putting in place stringent and consistent global international travel policy that is guided by public health,” a senior administration official said.

A few select groups are exempt from the new rules: Children under 18, people with medical contraindications to the vaccines, COVID vaccine clinical trial participants and foreign nationals traveling with a non-tourist visa who are coming from a country with low vaccine availability.

The last category includes about 50 countries, senior administration officials said Monday, though they emphasized that only certain travelers would be eligible for the exemption.

“This will represent a very, very small number of actual travelers to the U.S., so these have been crafted to be narrow,” an administration official said. “They need to have a specific compelling reason, so tourist visas will not qualify for that.”

Children are exempt, officials said, since many around the world aren’t yet eligible for the shots. But they will still have to show a negative COVID test result either within three days if traveling with vaccinated adults or within one day if traveling alone or with unvaccinated adults. 

Airlines will enforce the new rules by requiring either digital vaccine verification or a paper version, with an emphasis on flexibility, officials said Monday, though they expect the process to evolve. 

“Initially, there may be things that are more manual in nature and perhaps more paper, but as carriers are able to bring online more digital systems, we probably will see the use of those types of systems increase,” one senior administration official explained. 

Airlines will also be required to track travelers’ information for contact tracing purposes, in case a COVID infection is reported after they enter the U.S.

The one-day rule for a negative COVID test result applies to all unvaccinated people, officials said, mostly U.S. citizens and residents but also the small number of exempted foreign travelers.

The short window for testing is meant to prevent spread of the highly contagious mutations of the coronavirus.

“What we see is essentially a bifurcated pathway: if you’re fully vaccinated, the ability to test up to three days prior, whereas unvaccinated persons need to show that negative test immediately prior,” an official said. “A lot of this is derived from what we’ve learned about delta variant and other variants, which can be both more contagious and have a more rapid onset.”

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