President Joe Biden’s administration is taking the first steps towards requiring nearly all foreign visitors to the United States to be vaccinated for the coronavirus, a White House official has said.
All travellers to the US, regardless of vaccination status, are currently required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of air travel to the country.
The new vaccination requirement would come as part of the administration’s phased approach to easing travel restrictions for foreign citizens to the country, the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the policy under development, told several news agencies on Wednesday.
The official said the Biden administration, recognising the importance of international travel, wants to reopen to visitors from abroad in a “safe and sustainable manner”.
The official added there would be limited exceptions to the vaccine requirement.
No timeline has yet been determined, as interagency working groups study how and when to safely move towards resuming normal travel, the official said.
On Wednesday, White House Spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters that a change in policy was not imminent.
“Given where we are today with the Delta variant, we will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point,” she said.
Those restrictions have severely curtailed international trips to the US, barring non-US residents who have been to China, the European Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, South Africa and India in the prior 14 days from entering the country.
The Biden administration has faced pressure to lift some restrictions from affected allies, the air travel industry and families who have been kept separated from loved ones by the rules.
Many have also complained that the travel restrictions do not reflect the current virus situation, particularly as caseloads in the US are worse than in many of the prohibited nations.
The Delta variant of the coronavirus has propelled a surge in COVID-19 cases in the US, overwhelmingly among unvaccinated people.
Meanwhile, the country on Monday hit Biden’s goal of administering at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to 70 percent of adults almost a month late, as the newest wave of infections pushes hospitalisations to levels seen a year ago.