White House confirms U.S. may require foreign visitors be vaccinated

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The White House on Thursday confirmed it may require visitors from abroad to be vaccinated as part of its plans to eventually reopen international travel but said it had yet to decide and would not immediately lift restrictions.

FILE PHOTO: Air travelers walk through a terminal as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues, at New York’s JFK International Airport in New York, U.S., May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients confirmed that an interagency working group was developing plans that may require some type of vaccine requirement for foreign nationals.

Reuters first reported the White House effort to develop vaccine requirements that could cover nearly all foreign visitors.

“We will be ready when it is the right time to consider reopening,” Zients said.

The White House has said it is not ready to immediately lift restrictions because of the rising COVID-19 caseload and highly transmissible Delta variant.

The extraordinary U.S. travel restrictions were first imposed on China in January 2020 to address the spread of COVID-19. Numerous other countries have been added, most recently India in May.

The White House has held discussions with airlines and others about how it would implement a policy of requiring vaccines for foreign visitors.

The administration must also consider what proof it would accept of vaccination and whether the United States would accept vaccines that some countries are using but which have yet to be authorized by U.S. regulators.

The United States currently bars most non-U.S. citizens who within the last 14 days have been in the United Kingdom, the 26 Schengen countries in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.

It was not immediately clear whether a plan would require visitors arriving from Mexico and Canada to be vaccinated before crossing land borders.

Industry officials say it will be at least weeks and potentially months before restrictions are lifted.

Some critics of the restrictions say they no longer make sense because some countries with high rates of COVID-19 infections are not on the restricted list while some countries on the list have the pandemic under control.

The Biden administration has also been talking to U.S. airlines in recent weeks about establishing international contact tracing for passengers before lifting travel restrictions.

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