By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday signed an order imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national air travelers and lifting severe travel restrictions on China, India and much of Europe effective Nov. 8, the White House said.
The extraordinary U.S. travel restrictions were first imposed in early 2020 to address the spread of COVID-19. The rules bar most non-U.S. citizens who within the last 14 days have been in the United Kingdom, the 26 Schengen countries in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.
“It is in the interests of the United States to move away from the country-by-country restrictions previously applied during the COVID-19 pandemic and to adopt an air travel policy that relies primarily on vaccination to advance the safe resumption of international air travel to the United States,” Biden’s proclamation says.
The White House confirmed that children under 18 are exempt from the new vaccine requirements as are people with some medical issues. Non-tourist travelers from about 50 countries with nationwide vaccination rates of less than 10% will also be eligible for exemption from the rules. Those receiving an exemption will generally need to be vaccinated if they intend to remain in the United States for more than 60 days.
The White House first disclosed on Sept. 20 it would remove restrictions in early November for fully vaccinated air travelers from 33 countries.
The Biden administration also detailed requirements airlines must follow to confirm foreign travelers have been vaccinated before boarding U.S.-bound flights.
One concern among U.S. officials and airlines is making sure foreign travelers are aware of the new vaccine rules that will take effect in just two weeks.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is issuing on Monday new contact tracing rules requiring airlines to collect information from international air passengers as needed “to follow up with travelers who have been exposed to COVID-19 variants or other pathogens.”
The CDC said this month it would accept any vaccine authorized for use by U.S. regulators or the World Health Organization and will accept mixed-dose coronavirus vaccines from travelers.
Foreign air travelers will need to provide vaccination documentation from an “official source” and airlines must confirm the last dose was at least two weeks earlier than the travel date.
International air travelers will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure. The White House said unvaccinated Americans and foreign nationals receiving exemptions will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of departing.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Chizu Nomiyama)