The U.S. border has been closed to discretionary travel since March 2020.
The squeeze: The Biden administration has been under intense pressure for months to remove travel restrictions for nonessential, fully vaccinated travelers at the frontier, especially at land ports of entry.
Earlier this week, the Biden administration announced that land and ferry borders would be opened next month to fully vaccinated travelers coming from Canada and Mexico.
Open questions: A concern for many travelers, and Canadians in particular, is whether the U.S. will accept travelers who were given a mixed-dose regimen of two different Covid-19 jabs.
A Canadian government source told POLITICO on Friday said the Trudeau government has yet to receive any updates from the U.S. on its policy for mixed vaccine doses.
The U.S. will look to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the appropriate definition of “fully vaccinated,” a U.S. government official told POLITICO late Thursday. The public will get an answer prior to the date of the reopening, the official said.
International visitors who’ve received a full dose of vaccines authorized by either the FDA or listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization will meet the criteria for entry into the U.S., CDC spokesperson Jade Fulce said this week. Fulce said the CDC will release additional guidance and information as the travel requirements are finalized later this month.
The background: Jeff Zients, head of the White House’s Covid-19 Response Team, last month outlined that foreign nationals must show proof of vaccination and proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken three days prior to boarding an airplane.
Also in September, the CDC filed a notice with the Office of Management and Budget to collect data from vaccinated international travelers. The notice is still pending review.
Zients explained the data will act as a “public health surveillance system.” U.S.-bound travelers will be asked to offer up their phone number and email address to give the CDC and state and local health officials the ability to follow up with travelers if they have potentially been exposed to Covid or other diseases.
Quarantine for vaccinated travelers coming into the U.S. will not be required; any unvaccinated Americans returning to the U.S. will be subject to stricter testing requirements, Zients said. “They will need to test within one day of departure and will be required to test again post their arrival.”
For land border crossings, the ease in restrictions will not apply to asylum-seeking migrants under public health services law, Title 42. That law “remains in place,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday.
Airlines applaud: CEO Nicholas Calio, head of Airlines for America, on Friday said the organization has already seen an increase in ticket sales for international travel over the past few weeks, with airlines “eager to begin safely reuniting the countless families, friends and colleagues who have not seen each other in nearly two years, if not longer.”
“A4A passenger carriers will continue to work closely with the administration to implement this new system over the coming weeks in a way that prioritizes the wellbeing of all travelers,” Calio said.
U.S. airlines saw more than a 160 percent spike in domestic and international passenger travel in August compared to the same time last year, according to new data published by DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Out of 20 airlines providing statistics, carriers flew 66 million passengers in August 2021, up from the 25.2 million that traveled in August 2020.
Most were for domestic flights — 59.7 million — while the remaining were for international flights. Airlines have struggled to make inroads amid the pandemic for global travel, especially with protocols that often vary from country to country.
By comparison, July saw 73.4 million passengers in all.
What’s next: Expect more guidance on the contact tracing system, potential exemptions and information provided to airlines, as well as how this affects travel for children in the coming weeks.
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