https://www.bbc.com-image source, Reuters
The US is easing its coronavirus travel restrictions, re-opening to passengers from the UK, EU and other nations.
From November, foreign travellers will be allowed to fly into the US if they are fully vaccinated and undergo testing and contact tracing, the White House said.
The US has had tough restrictions on travel in place since early last year.
The move on Monday answers a major demand from European allies at a time of strained relations.
White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients announced the “new international air travel system”.
“This is based on individuals rather than a country based approach, so it’s a stronger system,” he said.
“Most importantly, foreign nationals flying to the US will be required to be fully vaccinated.”
Under the new rules, fully vaccinated passengers will not be required to quarantine. Officials said there would be some exceptions to the new policy, including for children who are not eligible to be vaccinated.
Americans who are not fully vaccinated will still be able to enter, but they will need to be tested in the 24 hours before their return to the US, and after they arrive home.
The new rules do not apply to travellers crossing land borders, meaning that restrictions on vehicle movement from Mexico and Canada will remain in place.
US restrictions were initially imposed on travellers from China in early 2020, and then extended to other countries.
The current rules bar entry to most non-US citizens who have been in the UK, EU, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil within the last 14 days.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “delighted” with the US’s new rules.
“It’s a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again,” he said.
Airline shares rose in response to the new travel rules, with British Airways owner IAG up as much as 10%.
Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss called the move “a major milestone” for travel recovery.
For months a joint working party has been looking at ways to relax the travel ban. The work, I’m told, has been detailed and assiduous.
But last Friday in Washington next to no one (not even in the Biden administration) was expecting today’s announcement. So what’s changed?
The Biden administration is aware of the growing disquiet among European allies about a range of issues – Afghanistan notably, but in recent days French fury over the Aukus submarine deal. And remember France is America’s oldest ally.
This week Joe Biden will be meeting, not only Boris Johnson, but a whole pile of EU leaders during the UN General Assembly in New York. And all had it on their dance cards to raise the travel ban.
According to one diplomatic source, the US over the weekend just weighed the countervailing forces: annoy some Americans with a policy that could be characterised as being weak on Covid; or continue to alienate your European allies who are growing increasingly irritable.
With the data no longer supporting the ban, this weekend came a decision. Out of the blue in one way, but quite logical in another.