Biden Reinstates Europe Travel Ban, Adds South Africa

Foreign nationals from the European Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, and South Africa are prohibited from entering the U.S. as concerns about new coronavirus variants mount.

Biden Reinstates Europe Travel Ban, Adds South Africa

A ban on travel to the U.S. remains in place for several countries and destinations.

Photo by Shutterstock

A new executive order issued by President Joe Biden on January 25 reinstated a ban on travel to the United States from Europe and Brazil, and it comes as little surprise. After former President Donald Trump lifted the Europe and Brazil travel bans on January 18—just two days before the end of his term—White House press secretary and Biden spokesperson Jen Psaki immediately responded that the incoming Biden administration would not carry out Trump’s directive.

“On the advice of our medical team, the [Biden] administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26,” Psaki tweeted on January 18.

True to the tweet, Biden has signed a new order that maintains that foreign nationals who have been in the European Schengen area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, or Brazil in the last 14 days are barred from entering the United States—upholding a ban on inbound travel from those destinations that has been in place since mid-March 2020. Biden’s January 25 Presidential Proclamation also adds South Africa to the list of countries from which foreign nationals are now barred from entering the United States, a list that includes China and Iran.

The new order cites variants of COVID-19 that have emerged in the U.K., Brazil, and South Africa as among the reasons that the CDC has concluded that these ongoing travel restrictions are needed.

Exceptions to the ban include U.S. citizens and permanent residents, as well as the spouses, parents, legal guardians, siblings, and children under the age of 21 of citizens and permanent residents. Also exempted are those traveling to assist the U.S. government in the containment of the pandemic, air and sea crew members, diplomats, foreign officials, some members of international organizations and NATO, and U.S. Armed Forces members (and their spouses and children).

While the proclamation remains in effect for as long as President Biden deems necessary, it also requires that the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services make a monthly recommendation to the president regarding whether the administration should continue, modify, or terminate the order.

The January 25 decision comes one day before a new Biden-backed CDC mandate goes into effect requiring all international passengers flying into the United States who are age two and older—including returning U.S. citizens—to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding.

An executive order signed by President Joe Biden on January 21 made the negative COVID test from international arrivals obligatory. That order also stated that all travelers entering the U.S. from a foreign country will now be required to “comply with other applicable CDC guidelines concerning international travel, including recommended periods of self-quarantine or self-isolation after entry into the United States.”

The CDC recommends that international travelers get tested again 3 to 5 days after arrival from abroad and stay home for 7 days after travel, pending a negative test result, or self-quarantine for 14 days with no postflight test.

The CDC’s guidelines for international travel are as follows:

  • Get tested 1–3 days before your flight—make sure to have actual results (not pending results) prior to traveling
  • If you have a positive result, do not travel
  • Get tested 3–5 days after your flight
  • Stay home for 7 days after traveling, even if you test negative
  • If you test positive for COVID-19 after you travel, isolate yourself and follow public health recommendations. Do not travel until you are no longer considered a transmission risk—this includes your return trip home
  • If you don’t get tested, it’s safest to stay home for 14 days after travel
  • Avoid those who are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 for 14 days, whether you get tested or not

The executive order that converts these recommendations into requirements comes amid reports of new variants of coronavirus emerging in countries such as the United Kingdom and South Africa that have shown to have increased transmissibility.
“While it is known and expected that viruses constantly change through mutation leading to the emergence of new variants, these new variants have emerged at a time when numbers of new cases in the United States have continued to increase at alarming rates. Additional new virus variants are also likely to emerge as the virus continues to evolve and mutate. Accordingly, further action is needed to help mitigate the spread of these and other new virus variants into the United States,” the CDC stated upon requiring the preflight COVID test for international arrivals.

Effective January 26, those arriving stateside on any international flights will need to provide proof of a negative PCR or antigen test, the results of which must be from no more than 72 hours prior to departure, according to the CDC. For those with a connecting flight, the test must be procured no more than 72 hours before the initial leg of their journey (provided the layover is not more than 24 hours). Airlines will be required to confirm the negative test result for all passengers before they board and to deny boarding to those passengers who choose not to take a test.

Passengers under the age of two are exempt, as are airline crew members, federal law enforcement personnel, and U.S. military while on duty. Those who can show proof of a positive test result combined with a healthcare professional declaring that they have recovered and are cleared for travel from within three months of departure are also exempt from the negative COVID test requirement.

No details have been provided regarding how and whether the posttravel quarantine requirement will be enforced.

>> Next: Planes, Trains, and . . . National Parks? Yep, Masks Now Required for Travel in U.S.

Michelle Baran is a deputy editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.
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