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US making plans to reopen to fully vaccinated foreigners as China curbs travel

Debate also continues over the need for booster shots with WHO calling for a moratorium on third doses until at least the end of September.

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Travellers inquire about Covid-19 tests at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Nov 25, 2020. Photo: AP
Travellers inquire about Covid-19 tests at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Nov 25, 2020. Photo: AP

The US, which closed its borders to much of the world as the pandemic took hold, said Wednesday it plans eventually to begin allowing fully vaccinated foreigners back in, while China tightened overseas travel curbs amid surging infection numbers.

The two countries’ travel-related moves come as the fast-spreading Delta variant cuts a deadly swath across the planet, not only affecting movement between countries but also the northern hemisphere’s summer tourist season.

Recognising the importance of international travel, a White House official said in a statement that the US administration wants to reopen to visitors from abroad in a “safe and sustainable manner,” though without specifying a timeframe.

Reopening is to include the development of “a phased approach that over time will mean, with limited exceptions, that foreign nationals travelling to the US – from all countries – need to be fully vaccinated,” the official said.

Meanwhile in China, which had previously boasted of its success in crushing Covid-19 after it first emerged there in December 2019, mass testing campaigns have uncovered Delta variant infections across the country.

Local governments have tested entire cities and locked down millions, with the official figures on Wednesday revealing 71 new infections – the most since January.

China’s immigration authority announced it would stop issuing ordinary passports and other documents needed for exiting the country in “non-essential and non-emergency” cases.

However the authorities have pulled back from issuing a blanket ban on overseas travel.

Booster shot diplomacy

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday that halting booster shots until at least the end of September would help ease the drastic inequity in dose distribution between rich and poor nations. And that, they said, would help fight a pandemic that has killed more than 4.25 million people worldwide.

“We cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Washington swiftly shot down the proposal.

“We definitely feel that it’s a false choice and we can do both,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, adding that the US has donated more doses than any other country.

WHO said the moratorium would help towards the goal of vaccinating at least 10% of every country’s population by the end of September.

At least 4.27 billion doses have been administered globally so far, according to an AFP count.

In countries categorised as high income by the World Bank, 101 doses per 100 people have been injected – but in the 29 lowest-income countries, that figure drops to just 1.7 doses per 100 people.

Highly vaccinated Israel began rolling out a booster shot for over-60s last month, while Germany said Tuesday it would start offering third doses from September.

However WHO vaccines chief Kate O’Brien said there was no convincing evidence yet as to whether booster doses were actually necessary.