U.S. TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS: WHAT WILL RE-OPENING BEHOLD?

After nearly 18 months of barring almost all international travelers from entering the country, U.S. travel restrictions are being rolled back. The United States of America has announced its intention to ease travel restrictions on fully vaccinated foreign visitors from 33 countries including China, Brazil, India and most of Europe starting November 2021. Easing multiple travel bans and replacing them with more uniform requirements for inbound international air passengers.

The new rules will require all foreign nationals arriving in the U.S. to show proof of being fully vaccinated, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said in a recent press briefing. He said the new rules would take effect in early November, a timeline that will give agencies and airlines “time to prepare.”

ARE ALL VACCINES THE SAME?

The new guidance applies to all international travelers. A fully vaccinated traveler as per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, includes those who have received not only the vaccines approved for use in the U.S. but those listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization. Vaccines approved by the latter is yet to receive approval in the U.S., such as AstraZeneca and Covishield. Zients said, “CDC will release a list of accepted vaccinations before the new policy goes into effect.”

Thus, travelers inoculated with vaccines that haven’t been approved by the U.S. could face travel inequality. Millions worldwide can’t choose which shots they receive, and countries being selective about which shots are recognized leaves them with limited travel options. The below table is the list of most recognized vaccines across the world.

Table: Most Recognized Vaccines

VaccineApproved by Number of Countries Approved in the United States by Food and Drug Administration (FDA)Approved by World Health Organization (WHO)
Vaxzevria (Oxford/AstraZeneca)121NoYes 
Comirnaty (Pfizer-BioNTech)98YesYes
Spikevax (Moderna)71YesYes
Sputnik V70NoNo
Sinopharm64NoYes
Janssen (Johnson & Johnson)63YesYes
Covishield45NoYes
CoronaVac (Sinovac)40NoYes
Covaxin9NoNo

 THE ACTION PLAN

In addition to being fully vaccinated, the White House administration has plans to undertake additional steps to mitigate the spread of the virus such as: testing, quarantine, and contact tracing. Thus, fully vaccinated foreign nationals and American citizens returning to the U.S. from abroad will be required to take a pre-departure COVID-19 test within three days of their flight, and show proof of a negative result before boarding. Unvaccinated Americans are permitted to return to the U.S., but will be subject to stricter testing requirements. Unvaccinated travelers will also abide by the respective quarantine norms while fully vaccinated passengers will not be subject to any quarantine mandates upon arrival in the U.S.

CDC will be issuing a contact tracing order requiring airlines to collect current information for each U.S. bound traveler. For most airlines, contact tracing would be a new initiative, on which the industry still awaits clarity. While contact tracing has proven critical for the containment of COVID-19 transmission in general the possibility of successfully carrying it out is yet a mystery being beginners in the initiative.

A STEP TOWARDS RECOVERY

The decision to reopen U.S. borders to foreign visitors was applauded across the travel industry as a milestone on the path to restoring pre-pandemic operations. “This is a major turning point in the management of the virus and will accelerate the recovery of the millions of travel-related jobs that have been lost due to international travel restrictions,” Roger Dow, president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said in a statement.

This could turn out to be a huge boost to the U.S. and global travel sector, both leisure and business travel sector. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) also welcomed the decision by the Biden Administration to enable vaccinated travelers to enter the U.S. “It will boost the economic recovery by enabling some key business travel markets,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General. The opening of U.S. borders for fully vaccinated travelers will enable an increase in demand and prove to be a complete turnaround in boosting global travelers who were unable to travel earlier to the United States to finally re-enter the country.