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US set to reopen borders

Foreign travellers who provide proof of vaccination and are looking to visit families or friends or shop in the US will be allowed to enter
Joe Biden

Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Emily Cochrane   |   Washington   |   Published 14.10.21, 02:05 AM

The Joe Biden administration will lift travel restrictions at the borders with Canada and Mexico starting in November for fully vaccinated travellers, reopening the door of the United States to tourists and separated family members who had been sealed out of the country during the pandemic.

Foreign travellers who provide proof of vaccination and are looking to visit families or friends or shop in the US will be allowed to enter, senior administration officials said on Tuesday, just weeks after the administration said it would soon lift a similar sweeping restriction on foreigners looking to travel to the country from overseas.

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The lifting of the two bans will effectively mark the reopening of the US to travellers and tourism, signalling a new phase in the recovery from the pandemic after the country closed its borders for nearly 19 months. But the new requirements also indicate that the country will be a welcoming destination only for those who are vaccinated.

Unvaccinated travellers will continue to be banned from crossing the borders with Mexico or Canada, officials said. Those who were never banned from travelling across the land borders, including commercial drivers and students, will also need to show proof of vaccination when crossing starting in January — an effort to provide travellers like truckers time to adjust to the new rules, officials said.

The travel restrictions, implemented in March 2020 as the coronavirus spread throughout the US, only applied to “nonessential travellers” — relatives looking to visit family or those looking to shop in the US, whom border communities relied on for profits. Politicians representing such communities have pleaded with the Biden administration for months to lift the travel restrictions to provide a reprieve for suffering businesses.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, said the travel restrictions had cost Erie County in New York at least $660 million annually.

“Finally, the New York-Canadian border will be open again to vaccinated travellers from both nations,” Gillibrand said. “This reopening will be welcome news to countless businesses, medical providers, families and loved ones that depend on travel across the northern border.”

It is unclear when specifically in November the US will lift the travel restrictions.

Those entering at the Mexico or Canada borders will be questioned by an officer from Customs and Border Protection about their vaccination status before crossing. The border officers will have the discretion to send travellers to secondary screenings to have travel and vaccination documents checked, officials said.

While the officials said it was now safe enough to welcome in vaccinated visitors, President Biden will continue to use a separate border policy implemented early in the pandemic to rapidly turn away migrants seeking protection or economic opportunity — a policy that has been received criticism from a top state department official and the administration’s own medical consultants.

The decision to reopen the land borders was in part made to ensure that the US reopened to foreigners travelling by air and land at the same time, officials said. While those travelling by airplane will need to show both proof of vaccination and a negative coronavirus test to enter the US, there will be no testing requirement for those crossing the land border.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention considers people fully inoculated two weeks after they receive the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s.

Those who have received vaccines listed for emergency use by the World Health Organisation, such as AstraZeneca’s, would also be considered fully vaccinated — a standard one senior official said would probably be applied to those crossing the land border. Officials added that the CDC was still discussing whether foreigners crossing from Canada or Mexico with two doses from different vaccines could enter.

The decision to lift the restrictions on air travel had been celebrated by business leaders overseas and in the US. Travel spending dropped nearly in half to about $600 billion in 2020 from a year earlier, according to the US Travel Association, a trade group.

And businesses in places from Buffalo to San Diego to South Texas rely on tourists or those making a short visit to shop before returning home.

“Border communities have been hamstrung because of port closures,” representative Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democrat who represents a border district, said in an interview. “Not only did we suffer more significant health devastation in 2020, but the economic devastation has been longer for us because of those port closures.”

“This is great, and long overdue, news,” she added.

Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said the lifting of the restrictions would benefit communities she represents like Point Roberts, a town detached from the rest of her state “almost entirely dependent on cross-border travel to sustain their economy”.

But she warned that after “months of economic calamity” inflicted largely by the border closure, more would be needed to ensure that the community could fully recover.

New York Times News Service



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