US to require contact tracing and proof of vaccination when travel restrictions are lifted

A masked traveler checks his phone at the arrival level near the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) amid tightening travel restrictions due to Covid-19 on January 25, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

On Monday, the White House said it would require airlines to verify Covid-19 vaccinations for US air passengers and provide contact information to federal officials as part of new rules that will take effect when the US lifts restrictions on foreign visitors next month.

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

The new rules, published by President Joe Biden on Monday, will apply to foreign visitors, including those arriving in the United States from countries not on the banned list.

Exceptions to visitor vaccination requirements include travelers under the age of 18 or those with medical reasons for not being vaccinated, according to senior Biden administration officials. Foreign visitors between the ages of 2 and 17 must take a Covid test three days prior to departure if traveling with a fully vaccinated adult.

Other exceptions 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 the bill, but that people who receive an exemption due to low vaccine availability must provide a letter issued by the US government stating the urgent need for travel.

Officials believe they are fully vaccinated two weeks after the last dose of Covid-19 vaccine or a single dose of vaccine such as Johnson & Johnson. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier this month that they will accept a two-dose combination of vaccines that have FDA approval or are listed by the World Health Organization for emergency use. Digital and paper copies of vaccine certificates are accepted.

The CDC will require airlines to collect and track travelers’ contact information and possibly release it to federal officials.

Airlines, hotels and other travel companies have been urging the US government to open borders for over a year. The US set these limits in early 2020 when the Covid pandemic began.

Executives at Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines said this month that transatlantic travel bookings have skyrocketed since the Biden administration announced its intention to replace country-specific travel bans with vaccination requirements.

“There is clearly significant pent-up demand for travel to and from the US, and many customers are eager to return to travel when permitted,” American President Robert Isom said in a quarterly conference call on Thursday.

European countries began opening up to U.S. travelers in the spring with testing and vaccine requirements, but Washington did not reciprocate.

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