The U.S. will soon allow entry to most foreign air travelers as long as they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — while adding a testing requirement for unvaccinated Americans and barring entry for foreigners who haven’t gotten shots.
The measures, announced Monday by the White House, are the most sweeping change to U.S. travel policies in months, and widen the gap in rules between vaccinated people — who will see measures relaxed — and the unvaccinated. The new rules will replace existing bans on foreigners’ travel to the U.S. from certain regions, including Europe.
While the move will open the U.S. to millions of vaccinated people, the White House cast the measure as a crackdown, pointing to stricter testing rules and a new contact tracing regime. The new policy will take effect in “early November,” according to the White House, though the precise date isn’t yet clear.
“We know vaccines are effective, including against the delta variant, and vaccines are the best line of defense against COVID, so this vaccination requirement deploys the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of the virus,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters on Monday.
The new rules will replace the current system, which includes outright bans on entry for foreigners who’ve been in certain regions, such as the U.K. and European Union, within the previous two weeks, regardless of vaccination status.
“We will protect Americans here at home and enhance the safety of international travel,” Zients said.
News of the policy change caused U.S. airline shares to pare premarket losses. The Standard & Poor’s index of the country’s five biggest airlines rose less than 1% at 11:14 a.m. in New York, overcoming a global stock rout on anxiety over U.S. monetary policy and China’s real estate market. American Airlines Group Inc. climbed about 2%.
IAG SA, parent of trans-Atlantic specialist British Airways, gained about 11%, the most in 10 months, while Air France-KLM rose as much as 7% and Deutsche Lufthansa AG advanced 8.9%.
Before the coronavirus crisis hit, the North Atlantic corridor connecting the U.S. and Europe was the single most profitable part of the global aviation market, filled with premium travelers paying top dollar for first- and business-class seats.
The European Union’s top industry official welcomed the policy change. “A logical decision given the success of our EU vaccination campaign,” said Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton in a tweet. He said he’d be meeting with Zients Monday “to continue fighting the pandemic.”