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Passengers arrive on a flight from London amid new restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at JFK International Airport in New York City on Dec. 21, 2020.

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

The Biden administration is developing a plan to require nearly all foreign visitors to the United States to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as part of eventually lifting travel restrictions that bar much of the world from entering the United States, a White House official told Reuters on Wednesday.

The White House is not ready to immediately lift travel restrictions because of the rising COVID-19 case load and highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant, the official said.

The Biden administration has interagency working groups working “in order to have a new system ready for when we can reopen travel,” the official said, adding it includes “a phased approach that over time will mean, with limited exceptions, that foreign nationals travelling to the United States [from all countries] need to be fully vaccinated.”

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Last month, Reuters reported that the White House was considering requiring foreign visitors to be vaccinated as part of discussions on how to relax travel restrictions.

The official added the “working groups are developing a policy and planning process to be prepared for when the time is right to transition to this new system.”

Some other countries, including Canada and Britain, are relaxing or lifting restrictions for vaccinated Americans to travel.

The White House has held discussions with airlines and others about how it would implement a policy of requiring vaccines for foreign visitors. There are other questions the Biden administration must answer, including what proof it would accept of vaccination and if the United States would accept vaccines that some countries are using but that have not yet been authorized by U.S. regulators.

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

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

Last week, Reuters reported the White House was discussing the potential of mandating COVID-19 vaccines for international visitors. The sources said no decisions have been made.

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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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