US President Joe Biden on Monday signed an order imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national air travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions on China, India and much of Europe effective November 8, the White House said.
The extraordinary US travel restrictions were first imposed in early 2020 to address the spread of Covid-19. The rules bar most non-US citizens who within the last 14 days have been in Britain, 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 travellers from nearly 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 within 60 days after arriving in the United States.
Those countries include Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Armenia, Myanmar, Iraq, Nicaragua, Senegal, Uganda, Libya, Ethiopia, Zambia, Congo, Kenya, Yemen, Haiti, Chad and Madagascar.
The White House first disclosed on September 20 it would remove restrictions in early November for fully vaccinated air travellers from 33 countries.
"Families and friends can see each other again, tourists can visit our amazing landmarks. This policy will further boost economic recovery," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
The Biden administration also detailed requirements airlines must follow to confirm foreign travellers have been vaccinated before boarding US-bound flights.
One concern among US officials and airlines is making sure foreign travellers are aware of the new vaccine rules that will take effect in just two weeks as well unvaccinated Americans who will face stricter testing rules.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued on Monday new contact tracing rules requiring airlines to collect information from international air passengers like phone numbers, email and US addresses and retain it for 30 days in case it needed "to follow up with travellers 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 US regulators or the World Health Organization and will accept mixed-dose coronavirus vaccines from travellers.
That list leaves off the Sputnik vaccine that has been used by Latin American countries extensively.
In Mexico, the government has said it plans to use its 24 million doses of Sputnik to inoculate nearly 9% of the population. A Biden administration official said Monday that some other major vaccines "are going to be under review as the data on the performance of those vaccines becomes available in a regulatory process."
The Transportation Security Administration plans to issue a security directive that provides the legal basis for airlines implementing the vaccine requirements. The attestation form notes it is a crime for air travellers lie about vaccination status.
The CDC said there are no religious exemptions for international travellers seeking to avoid Covid-19 requirements.
Foreign air travellers 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 travellers will need to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken within three days prior to departure. The White House said unvaccinated Americans and foreign nationals receiving exemptions will need to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test within one day of departing.
The Biden administration plans to issue details later this week of its parallel plans to lift restrictions to land border crossings on November 8 for vaccinated foreign nationals.