U.S. to require contact tracing, Covid tests when international visitor curbs lift next month

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A traveler wears a face mask while checking their phone on the arrivals level outside the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) amid increased Covid-19 travel restrictions on January 25, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

The White House on Monday said it will require airlines to check U.S.-bound air travelers’ proof of Covid-19 vaccination and provide contact information to federal officials as part of new rules that take effect when the U.S. lifts curbs on international visitors next month.

The Biden administration earlier this month said it plans to lift pandemic restrictions that barred most visitors from more than 30 countries, including the U.K. and Brazil, on Nov. 8, allowing in vaccinated travelers. The rules were put in place first by the Trump administration in early 2020 and then extended by the Biden administration this year.

The new rules, issued by President Joe Biden on Monday, will be applied to foreign visitors, including those coming to the U.S. from countries that were not on the prohibited list.

Exemptions to the visitors’ vaccine requirements include travelers under the age of 18 or those who have medical reasons prohibiting them from getting a vaccine, senior Biden administration officials said. Foreign visitors between age 2 and 17 must still take a Covid test three days before departure if they are traveling with a fully vaccinated adult.

Other exemptions include those traveling on non-tourist visas from countries with low vaccine availability. A senior administration official said there are about 50 countries that would fit that bill, but that individuals who receive the exemption for low vaccine availability have to provide a U.S.-government issued letter stating the urgent need for travel.

Officials consider fully vaccinated two weeks since the last dose of a Covid-19 vaccine or a single-dose vaccine like Johnson & Johnson‘s. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this month said it would accept a combination of two doses from vaccines that have Food and Drug Administration authorization or are on the World Health Organization’s list for emergency use. Digital and paper copies of vaccine certificates will be accepted.

The CDC will require airlines to collect and track contact information from travelers and potentially share that with federal officials.

Airlines, hotels and other travel companies have urged the U.S. government for more than a year to reopen borders. The U.S. established those restrictions in early 2020 at the start of the Covid pandemic.

Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines executives this month said that that bookings for trans-Atlantic travel have surged since the Biden administration announced it planned to replace the country-specific travel bans with the vaccination requirements.

“Clearly, there’s significant pent-up demand for travel to and from the U.S. and many customers are eager to return to travel when it’s permitted,” American’s president, Robert Isom, said on a quarterly call on Thursday.

European countries began opening up to U.S. travelers in the spring with testing and vaccine requirements, but the move was not reciprocated  by Washington.

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