US relaxes virus restrictions on foreign flights
WASHINGTON – The United States said on Monday it would ease airline restrictions this fall on travel within the country for people with proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test, replacing a mishmash of rules which had prevented many non-citizens and irritated allies in Europe and beyond where cases of the virus are much lower.
The changes, which take effect in November, will allow families and others separated by travel restrictions for 18 months to plan for long-awaited reunions and allow foreigners with work permits to return to work in the United States.
Airlines, business groups and travelers applauded.
“It’s a happy day. Big Apple, here I am! Said French entrepreneur Stéphane Le Breton, 45, finally able to book a trip to New York which had been suspended due to virus restrictions.
The new policy will replace a patchwork of travel bans first instituted by President Donald Trump last year and reinforced by President Joe Biden that restrict travel by non-citizens who have stayed in the previous 14 days at the UK, EU, China and India. , Iran, Republic of Ireland, Brazil or South Africa.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients announced the new policies, which will still require all foreign travelers to the United States to present proof of vaccination prior to boarding, as well as proof of a negative COVID-19 test performed within three days of the flight. Biden will also tighten testing rules for unvaccinated U.S. citizens, who will need to be tested the day before returning to the U.S., as well as after returning home.
Fully vaccinated passengers will not be required to self-quarantine, Zients said.
There will be no immediate changes to US land border policies, which restrict many cross-border travel with Mexico and Canada.
Travel bans had become the source of growing geopolitical frustration, especially among UK and EU allies. The easing comes ahead of Biden’s meeting with some European leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this week.
“This is based on individuals rather than a national approach, so it’s a stronger system,” Zients said.
The EU and the UK had previously decided to allow vaccinated American travelers to enter without quarantine, in a bid to boost business and tourism. But the EU recommended last month that some travel restrictions be reimposed on American travelers in the bloc due to the rampant spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus in America.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will require airlines to collect contact information from international travelers to facilitate tracing, Zients said.
It was not immediately clear which vaccines would be acceptable in the US system and whether those not approved in the US could be used. Zients said that decision would be up to the CDC.
Monday’s announcement was greeted with applause from the airline industry, which has lost significant revenue due to the drop in international travel.
Delta Air Lines spokesman Morgan Durrant said: “Science tells us that vaccinations combined with testing are the safest way to reopen travel, and we are optimistic that this important decision will allow the continuation of economic recovery in the United States and abroad and reunification. families separated for more than 18 months.
Globally, air travel is still down by more than half of pre-pandemic levels, and the decline is much steeper for cross-border flights. In July, domestic travel was down to 84% of 2019 figures, but international travel was only 26% from the same month two years ago, according to figures this month from the world’s largest trading group. the airline industry, the International Air Transport Association.
The numbers are similar but not as striking for the United States, where international travel in August was 46% of that in August 2019, according to Airlines for America. Arrivals of non-U.S. Citizens were only 36% of the 2019 level.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that he was “delighted” with the news. He said: “It’s a tremendous boost for business and commerce, and it’s great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can come together again.”
Airlines hailed the US move as a lifeline for the struggling industry. Tim Alderslade, managing director of industry body Airlines UK, said it was a “major breakthrough”.
Shai Weiss, managing director of Virgin Atlantic, said it was “a big step. … The UK will now be able to strengthen its ties with our most important economic partner, the United States, by boosting trade and tourism as well as bringing together friends, family and work colleagues.
The changes have also drawn praise from business groups, which have faced labor shortages as the economy rebounds with unexpected strength after last year’s coronavirus recession. U.S. employers posted job vacancies – a record 10.9 million in July – faster than applicants can fill them.
Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs for the United States Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement, “Allowing vaccinated foreign nationals to travel freely to the United States will help foster a strong and sustainable recovery in the US economy. “
AP writers Jill Lawless in London, Thomas Adamson-Koumbouzis in Paris and David Koenig in Dallas contributed.