TRAVEL

When will the US officially open to foreign travellers and what are the travel restrictions?

After 18 months of pandemic restrictions overseas travellers will be allowed to enter the United States by air, but with new covid-19 rules in place.

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When will the US officially open to foreign travellers and what are the travel restrictions?
JOE RAEDLE AFP

The White House has confirmed that the United States will reopen borders for air travellers this fall, allowing people from a list of 33 countries to enter the country and easing the pandemic restrictions that have been in place for 18 months.

The news was announced by White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients on Monday, who declined to give an exact date but said he expected the new rules to come into effect in “early November.”

The US will admit fully vaccinated air travellers from the European ‘Schengen’ countries, as well as the United Kingdom, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil. President Biden had been behind other foreign leaders in allowing the nation's borders to reopen again, citing the US’ high covid-19 case rate as a major concern.

What are the new US travel restrictions?

Until now the US policy had been a blanket ban on any non-essential travel into the country, denying those with friends and relatives in America the chance to visit loved ones. These changes will finally reopen the borders but the new system does not go live immediately.

Zients has said that the two-month wait for the new rules to go into place is designed to give agencies and airlines “time to prepare,” but what exactly are the new travel regulations?

Given the US’ precarious position in relation to the spread of the Delta variant, new protocols will be introduced to reduce the risk of further infection; focusing on testing and contact tracing.

Fully vaccinated travellers entering the country will be required to show proof of a negative pre-departure covid-19 test from within three days of their flight. They must also perform another test, such as a PCR or rapid test, between three and five days after their arrival.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working on plans to introduce a contact tracing system, to be administrated by airlines, to collect details on all inbound passengers. If anyone who they may have been in contact with on the flight later tests positive for covid-19 the airline will then inform them of their potential exposure.

Zients said of the new proposals: "This will enable CDC and state and local public health officials to follow up with inbound travellers and those around them if someone has potentially been exposed to Covid-19 and other pathogens," adding that it would help protect "against any future public health threats."

The vaccine requirement will encompass all vaccines that have been approved for use in the US, as well as some that have not yet had that approval. The UK-manufactured AstraZeneca vaccine, for example, has been authorised for emergency use by the World Health Organization and so will be accepted as part of the new scheme.