U.S. lays out new rules for international tourists arriving by air

Two weeks before a new vaccination requirement kicks in for most foreign travelers to the U.S., the Biden administration detailed the new international COVID-19 air travel polices, including exemptions for kids and new federal contact tracing requirements.

Beginning on Nov. 8, foreign, non-immigrant adults travelling to the United States will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with limited exceptions, and all travellers will need to be tested for the virus before boarding an aircraft to the U.S., with tightened restrictions for those who are not fully vaccinated.

The new policy comes as the Biden administration moves away from broader country-based travel restrictions and bans toward what it terms a “vaccinations-based” system focused on a traveller’s individual risk. Restrictions in place since early 2020 that have barred most non-U.S. citizens from travelling to the United States from places including China, India, South Africa, Brazil and much of Europe will also expire on Nov. 8.

Under the policy, those who are unvaccinated will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within a day of travel, while those who are vaccinated will be allowed to present a test taken within three days of travel.

Children under 18 will not be required to be fully vaccinated, given the inconsistency in the global rollout of shots for their age cohort, but those aged two and over will be subjected to the same COVID-19 testing policy as their parent or guardian.

Travellers wear face coverings in the main terminal of Denver International Airport on Aug. 24, 2021. The policy includes exemptions for kids and new federal contact tracing requirements. (David Zalubowski/The Associated Press)

All WHO-approved, mix-and-match vaccines accepted

The Biden administration has been working with airlines, who will be required to enforce the new procedures, to explain the new policies so they can prepare for implementation. Airlines will be mandated to verify vaccine records and match them against identify information. They will also need to make certain that the shots given are on the Food and Drug Administration or World Health Organization’s approved list. Mixing-and-matching of approved shots will be permitted.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s quarantine officers will spot-check passengers after arrival in the U.S. for compliance, according to an administration official. Airlines that don’t enforce the requirements could be subject to penalties of up to nearly $35,000 US per violation.

The administration announced limited exceptions to the vaccination requirement, including children, those who participated in COVID-19 clinical trials, who have medical reasons for not getting vaccinated, or are from a country where shots are not widely available.

Unvaccinated residents of countries with vaccination rates below 10 per cent of adults may be admitted to the U.S. with a government letter authorizing travel for pressing, non-tourism purposes, the administration said.

The CDC is also requiring airlines to collect contact information for international air travelers regardless of vaccination status to facilitate contact tracing.

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