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US removes travel ban for vaccinated foreigners

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More than a year and a half after COVID-19 concerns prompted the U.S. to close its borders to international travelers from countries including Canada, Mexico, Brazil, China, India, South Africa, the United Kingdom and much of Europe, restrictions are shifting to focus on vaccine status. Above, passengers walk through Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City in October 2020. Photo: Associated Press / File

As the United States continues to see a dramatically improved COVID-19 outlook since the summer Delta surge, border restrictions were lifted today.

Fully vaccinated travelers from a long list of countries including Mexico, Canada, and most of Europe will finally be allowed to make long-delayed trips — flying or on land. In time for the year’s biggest holidays, loved ones will reconnect after more than a year and a half apart because of the pandemic.

U.S. citizens are not required to present proof of vaccination before departure. However, if they do not, they will have to show proof of a negative COVID test taken within one day, instead of three days for travelers with a COVID vaccination record.

The U.S. will accept travelers who have been fully vaccinated with any of the vaccines approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization, not just those in use in the U.S. That means that the AstraZeneca vaccine, widely used in Mexico and Canada, will be accepted, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The change will have a profound effect in Mexico and Canada, where traveling back and forth was a way of life until the pandemic hit and the U.S. shut down nonessential travel.

Travelers still must have proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test. Land travel from Mexico and Canada will require proof of vaccination but no test.

“I’m planning to take my baby down for the American Thanksgiving,” said one woman who lives in St. Thomas, Ontario. “If all goes smoothly at the border I’ll plan on taking him down as much as I can. Is crazy to think he has a whole other side of the family he hasn’t even met yet.”

Facing fines of up to nearly US$35,000 per violation, airlines are required to verify vaccine records and match them against ID. They will also collect information about passengers for contact tracing efforts. CDC workers will be spot-checking travelers for compliance in the U.S. At land borders, Customs and Border Protection agents will check vaccine proof.

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