Published: Oct 21, 2021, Updated: Oct 21, 2021
The United States has finally, after nearly 18 months, decided to remove its travel ban and ease restrictions on arrivals from the EU and the UK. In terms of the revised rules, travelers from the UK who are fully vaccinated will now once again be able to travel to the US for leisure and/or business purposes.
This comes after the United Kingdom terminated its 'traffic light' system earlier in October. This meant that the US and various other countries (including South Africa) will now be on the nation's 'low-risk' list, which includes most countries in a new 2-category system.
After several weeks of uncertainty that quite understandably gave rise to much speculation, the U.S. Government has announced that the travel ban on arrivals from the UK will come to an end on Monday, 8 November. According to the announcement, foreign nationals will now only be required to be vaccinated in order the visit the US.
Unfortunately, that means it will be too late for British families to visit the US for a half-term holiday. Fortunately, however, they will now be able to travel to the United States to spend Christmas and New Year there.
When he initially announced on 20 September that restrictions were about to be eased, Jeff Zients (the official Covid-19 coordinator for the White House) only mentioned 'early November'. His announcement followed a New York press conference where Boris Johnson hinted that the travel ban would be lifted from 'the end of October'. The lack of details at the time made many travelers optimistic that the changes would come into effect on the first day of November 2021 - but this was not to be.
Before foreign visitors who want to travel to the United States will be allowed to board a flight to that country, they will first have to provide proof of vaccination as well as evidence of a Covid-19 test that was taken recently.
In terms of the system that is currently still in place, all foreign visitors who are two years or older have to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test result (NAAT, LAMP, or PCR) that was taken no more than 72 hours before the time of travel.
Probably the most important concession is that Americans and foreign visitors who enter the US from abroad will no longer have to go into quarantine. Travelers who have not been fully vaccinated will, however, still not be permitted to travel to the United States.
According to the assistant press secretary for the White House, Kevin Munor, the new policy was consistent, stringent, and 'guided by public health'.
It was also announced that the US would end travel restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals who wanted to enter the country via its land borders with Mexico and Canada. Unvaccinated individuals will, however, still not be allowed to enter the US via these land borders.
The White House announcement does, however, leave quite a few questions unanswered - particularly regarding any possible exemptions the current US administration plans to grant regarding vaccine requirements.
According to one official, for example, children under the age of 18 are expected to be largely exempt from the requirement that all visitors to the US have to be vaccinated.
Apart from the UK, fully vaccinated travelers from the following countries will be allowed to enter the United States from 8 November:
A full course of Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, or Pfizer vaccine will all be accepted by the United States, provided it was completed 14 days or longer before arrival in that country. There has been widespread concern, however, that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines, which until now have not been approved for use in the United States, would not be accepted as proof that a traveler has been vaccinated.
The CDC (the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has, however, now confirmed that its guidance would apply to all vaccines that have been 'listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization'. This of course includes Oxford/AstraZeneca.
Chief Medical Adviser for the US President Anthony Fauci has also confirmed that the US was ready to approve the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for all visitors. When asked by a journalist after the American announcement on the easing of rules whether the US would accept Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines, a spokesperson for the British Prime Minister said there was no reason to believe it won't be and added:
“I am confident that every vaccine we have used, any vaccine received in the UK and approved by the NHS, obviously signed off by the MHRA, WHO will be applicable.”
The US announcement further clarifies the changes the Biden administration announced last month. US officials initially indicated that the revised policy would come into effect in 'early November'. This left thousands of foreign nationals uncertain whether or not to revise their travel plans.
The latest announcement was welcomed by Shai Weiss, the CEO of Virgin Atlantic. Weiss said that it further confirmed how successful the global vaccination drive has been. She went on to say that this would allow the UK to once again strengthen business ties with the US, which is this country's biggest economic partner. It would also boost tourism and trade and reunite families, friends, and business partners.
The US announcement comes as a huge relief for major international airlines such as American, United, and Delta, which have found it extremely difficult to remain profitable after the curbs on international travel that have been in place for more than 18 months.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker issued the following statement: ″We welcome the Biden administration’s science-based approach to begin lifting the restrictions on travel to the U.S. that were put into place at the start of the pandemic.”
The United States has until now been trailing behind many other nations when it comes to the removal of Covid-related travel restrictions. This started causing friction between the country and some of its allies.
The Trump administration initially issued a ban on travelers from the EU entering the US on 14 March 2020. The UK, Brazil, and Ireland were added to the list later.
In November last year, Trump was reportedly thinking about lifting the travel ban. This followed concerted efforts by United Airlines Holdings, American Airlines, and Delta Airlines to get the ban revoked.
The airlines were instead advocating for the implementation of Covid-19 tests on important international flight routes such as between Heathrow and New York JFK and Rome and Atlanta.
When the Biden administration came into office at the beginning of 2021, however, it quickly overturned Trump's decision to lift the travel ban and made it clear that it was way too early for that. Their decision was mainly motivated by the outbreak of a more transmissible Covid-19 variant discovered in the UK, which later became known as the Beta version.