Washington (US)/Beijing (China) – While the United States is set to open its borders for vaccinated travellers, tens of thousands of people in China are being put under strict stay-at-home orders following a new outbreak of COVID-19 in the north.
The United States will open its land borders with Mexico and Canada in early November to non-essential travellers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a senior White House official announced on Tuesday.
The official said the administration would give the ‘precise date very soon’ – both for land crossings as well as international air travel, which would be timed to ‘go together’.
The United States had already announced in September that it would lift bans in November on all vaccinated air passengers who undergo testing and contact tracing.
China reported 39 new cases on Monday, bringing the tally from the latest Delta variant-linked outbreak to more than 100 cases over the past week.
The numbers are extremely low compared with most places in the world, but China has pursued a zero-case strategy throughout the pandemic and authorities are determined to subdue the latest outbreak with the Winter Olympics just over 100 days away.
Several housing blocks in Beijing have been locked down, and organisers on Sunday indefinitely postponed a marathon at which 30,000 runners were expected.
Some 23,000 residents in one housing compound in Changping district have been ordered to stay indoors after nine cases were found there in recent days, local outlet Beijing News reported.
Photos showed officials in hazmat suits standing watch outside the entrances to each apartment block, and the perimeter of the compound blocked by metal barricades.
Entry will be restricted for people who have been to places with local COVID-19 infections in the last 14 days, Beijing’s vice publicity minister said Monday.
In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, US borders were closed in March 2020 to travelers coming from the European Union, Britain and China, with India and Brazil added to the list later.
Overland visitors from Mexico and Canada were also banned.
The nearly 19 months of restrictions led to both personal and economic suffering.
The White House source said the land border reopening would happen in two phases.
Initially, vaccines will be required for ‘non-essential’ trips – such as visiting family or tourism – though unvaccinated travelers will still be allowed into the country for ‘essential’ trips as they have been for the last year and a half.
A second phase beginning in ‘early January’ 2022 will require all visitors to the United States to be fully vaccinated, no matter the reason for their trip.
“This phased approach will provide ample time for essential travelers such as truckers or others to get vaccinated, enabling a smooth transition to the new system,” the official said.
The new schedule means the land border restrictions, which are currently set to expire on October 21, would have to be extended one more time before the new rules enter into force, the official indicated.
Mexico hailed Washington’s decision. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called it “good news,” while Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said that it will allow “activating and accelerating economic growth in Mexico’s northern border region.”
The senior official pointed to recent recommendations from US health authorities for guidance on which vaccines would allow travellers entry.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last week that all vaccines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) would be accepted for entry by air, the official pointed out.
“While the CDC hasn’t made a final determination here, I anticipate that that would be the same for land travel as well,” the official said, explaining that the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not administered in the United States, would be accepted.
The rule change will only apply to legal land crossings into the country, the official said.
“Title 42” – the controversial Trump-era rule continued by the Biden administration which allows those crossing illegally to be deported for public health reasons – will remain in place, the official said.
The White House cited Title 42 when thousands of Haitians gathered along the US-Mexico border were deported last month, with critics saying the law unfairly restricts those seeking asylum.
The White House official said Tuesday that details were still being sorted to allow vaccinated air travelers to enter the United States, including plans on how to undertake contact tracing on such visitors.
Passengers will also be tested for the coronavirus, the official said.