Biden mandates COVID vaccine for foreign visitors, restricts unvaxxed

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will lift long-running COVID-19 travel bans against residents of most European countries on Nov. 8 and implement a new vaccination-and-testing rule — while also making travel tougher for Americans who are unvaccinated.

Under the new policies, most travelers to the US must get tested for the virus within three days if they took one of the World Health Organization’s approved vaccines.

The new rules tighten restrictions on unvaccinated US citizens and permanent residents, who will have to get tested within one day of travel — versus three days currently.

The slow repeal of the nearly 20-month-old Europe travel ban outraged US allies who called it unscientific because most residents of the Schengen Zone, the UK and Ireland are vaccinated — whereas there are much lower vaccination rates in countries that never were banned.

Former President Donald Trump attempted to lift the ban before he left office, but President Biden’s team overrode that decision, which was set to take effect after Biden took office.

US officials said Monday that the new policy will have a number of carveouts, including for children under age 18, who must get tested three days before travel regardless of vaccination status.

A woman is vaccinated against COVID-19 in Mississippi.
The Biden administration will mandate that unvaccinated Americans get tested within one day of traveling to another country.
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

About 50 countries that have less than 10 percent of their residents vaccinated will be exempted from the vaccination standards — meaning they will be able to get COVID-19 tested within three days of travel if they are unvaccinated.

“We fully are aware that the global distribution and availability of vaccines varies widely. And so there will be exemptions specifically for countries that have insufficient vaccines to have persons fully vaccinated,” an official said.

A different official clarified that unvaccinated people in countries with low vaccine coverage would not be permitted to enter the US as tourists.

“Even in the low-vaccine-availability countries, people will also need to have a compelling reason to come here … the tourist visa will not qualify for that,” she said.

The new policy will be enforced by airlines and there will be some other exceptions, including for people who had a serious reaction to a shot.

The WHO’s list of approved vaccines means that two Chinese-made shots with low efficacy — the Sinopharm and Sinovoc vaccines — will be allowed for travel.

Passengers check in for a Southwest Airlines flight at Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida on October 11, 2021.
Passengers check in for a Southwest Airlines flight at Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida, on October 11, 2021.
REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File

The WHO also recognizes the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine that’s widely used in Europe, in addition to the three approved vaccines in the US. The WHO doesn’t recognize Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

New rules for land border crossings are under development, the officials said.