On Sept. 20, the U.S. government announced it will lift COVID-related entry bans on foreign travelers from European Union, China, Iran, South Africa, Brazil and India beginning November 2021. Instead, foreign travelers from all countries will need to show:
- proof they are fully vaccinated and
- a negative coronavirus test taken within 3 days of boarding a flight.
No quarantine is required upon arrival in the U.S.
The COVID-related bans on travel from those geographic areas led to odd workarounds: certain travelers could qualify for national interest waivers of the travel ban; other travelers from the prohibited countries would spend two weeks in an intermediate country — often, Mexico or the Dominican Republic before flying to the United States.
Here’s what we know and what we don’t know so far:
A spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement that the agency is still in the “regulatory process,” but said that people are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Vaccines listed for emergency use by the World Health Organization will be valid, according to the CDC. Those include:
- Pfizer/BioNtech Comirnaty vaccine
- SII/Covishield and AstraZeneca/AZD1222 vaccines (developed by AstraZeneca/Oxford and manufactured by Serum Institute of India and SK Bio respectively)
- Janssen/Ad26.COV 2.S developed by Johnson & Johnson
- Moderna COVID-19 vaccine (mRNA 1273)
- Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine
If you plan to travel internationally, you will need to get a viral test no more than 3 days before you travel by air into the United States and show your negative result to the airline before you board your flight, or be prepared to show documentation of recovery (proof of a recent positive viral test and a letter from your healthcare provider or a public health official stating that you were cleared to travel). For details, see the CDC webpage.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will issue an order directing airlines to collect phone numbers and email addresses of travelers for a new contact-tracing system. This will allow the CDC and local publish health officials to follow up if a traveler has potentially been exposed to COVID-19.
What About U.S. Citizens?
The vaccination stipulation does not apply to U.S. citizens. But the new policy does require unvaccinated Americans to provide proof of a negative result from a test taken within one day of their return flight to the United States, and to test again after they land.
While the announcement on lifting the ban is welcome news, many questions remain:
- What is the precise date the travel ban will be lifted?
- Will unvaccinated children be eligible for admission?
- Will the vaccination requirement be waived for persons who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons?
- Will the vaccination requirement be waived for persons from countries where vaccines are not widely available?
- When will the rules be applied to travelers crossing land borders with Mexico and Canada?
- What evidence of vaccination will be required?
Most Chinese that I know have received a locally developed variant of the vaccine which has yet to receive WHO emergency use approval, much less CDC approval. The Sinopharm and Sinovac were used for export. As these many variants are not on the list, many Chinese will still be excluded from travel for the foreseeable future.