The White House on Monday announced a new international air travel system to start in early November that will ease travel restrictions from other countries but require all foreign nationals traveling to the United States to be fully vaccinated and test negative for coronavirus before boarding a U.S. bound plane -- a move that will allow families who have been separated by travel restrictions since March 2020 to reunite.
The announcement came as President Joe Biden prepared to head to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Monday and a day before he was to meet at the White House with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who reportedly was expected to call on Biden to ease travel restrictions.
The new system will no longer block international travelers from individual countries, but instead apply the same rules to every country: entry to the US requires full vaccination and a negative test three days before traveling.
"This new system allows us to implement strict protocols to prevent the spread of COVID from passengers flying internationally into the United States by requiring adult foreign nationals traveling to the United States be fully vaccinated," said Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator. "This is based on individuals rather than a country-based approach, so it is a strong system."
Once in the US, fully vaccinated international travelers will not be required to quarantine for 14 days, but the White House said it will be stepping up its contact tracing efforts by collecting contact information of U.S.-bound travelers and sharing it with state and local public health officials to alert travelers if they have become exposed to COVID-19.
As for unvaccinated Americans, international travel will require more stringent requirements under the new plan. They will be required to have a negative test within one day of boarding a flight to the US and will be required to test again upon arriving. The current CDC guidelines for Americans traveling internationally, whether they are vaccinated or not, requires proof of a negative test three days before departure in order to enter the US.
The new plan also involves continued mask wearing during air travel, a mandate that Biden extended to last until Jan. 18 last month.
"It's simple: Masking help stop the spread of COVID-19. If you break the rules, be prepared for the consequences," Zients said.
The specific vaccines that qualify a traveler as "fully vaccinated" will be determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Zients said, and the administration did not outline any vaccine requirements for domestic travel, though they said aren't taking any options off the table.
The administration hopes that Biden's recent rule requiring federal workers and businesses to be vaccinated will be help increase vaccination rates in the U.S.
“We clearly have a track record that shows we're pulling available levers to require vaccinations and we're not taking any measures off the table on specific authorities used for implementation,” Zients said.