The Biden administration is working on a plan to require foreigners wanting to legally visit the US to be fully vaccinated against Covid, as a prerequisite to lifting existing travel restrictions imposed at the pandemic’s outset.
Part of a plan to reopen travel to the rest of the world includes “a phased approach that over time will mean, with limited exceptions, that foreign nationals traveling to the United States (from all countries) need to be fully vaccinated,” an unnamed administration official told Reuters on Wednesday. The new system would need to be in place before the White House decides to lift the travel restrictions imposed in March 2020, as the initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Under the existing rules, anyone who has visited Brazil, China, India, South Africa, the EU’s Schengen Area, Ireland or the UK within two weeks of traveling to the US is barred from entry. Arriving air travelers need to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test no more than three days old, regardless of vaccination status.
There was also no telling when the restrictions might be lifted, with airline industry officials telling Reuters it will take “at least weeks and potentially months.”
Among the issues still being discussed is what proof of vaccination would be accepted, and whether vaccines not authorized by US regulators would be recognized under the arrangement. Only three vaccines – made by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson – are currently cleared for emergency use in the US.
Breaking from AP: The Biden administration is working to require all foreign visitors to the U.S. to be vaccinated for COVID-19. It is unclear if this applies to migrants who enter outside of official ports of entry.
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) August 4, 2021
The anonymous official who talked to the agency could not answer whether the administration plans to require vaccination for visitors crossing the land border from Mexico and Canada – which is still officially closed to anyone but essential personnel like truck drivers or medical staff.
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Critics have noted that it also remains unclear whether the rules would apply to migrants who cross the border illegally. So far in 2021, the Border Patrol has apprehended over 1.1 million people. As the detention facilities on the border itself get overwhelmed, migrants are released to NGOs and transported into the interior of the country.
It has recently emerged that many of them have tested positive for Covid-19, and thousands have been released without being given court dates, not bothering to check in with the authorities at their final destinations.
Meanwhile, citing the spread of the Delta variant of the virus, US health authorities have reimposed mask mandates for much of the country. Some states, local governments and corporations have also begun mandating vaccinations for some or all of their employees, while New York City became the first in the country to require a vaccine pass to enter indoor restaurants and entertainment venues.
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