International Travel Is Getting Easier — Except for the Unvaccinated

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Traveling abroad is getting less complicated for vaccinated travelers.  

A growing list of countries is reducing or eliminating quarantine and Covid-19 testing requirements for those who have been fully vaccinated, while keeping restrictions in place for those who haven't.

Where vaccines are easing travel restrictions

Barbados announced this week that quarantine requirements for vaccinated travelers will be reduced to zero to two days, during which they can move around their hotels. Unvaccinated visitors, however, must stay in their hotel rooms until they pass a Covid test on the fifth day, and wait several more days for results.

The new protocols start May 8.

Children aren't eligible to be vaccinated yet, a fact which is complicating family travel plans this year, but Barbados doesn't leave them out. Kids under 18 years old who are traveling with vaccinated parents are subject to the same rules as vaccinated travelers, according to Barbados' tourism marketing website.

Mixed groups of vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers aren't quite as lucky. Vaccinated adults traveling with unvaccinated adult companions who "choose not to be separated" are subject to the more onerous requirements imposed on the uninoculated.

Barbados' relaxed policy toward vaccinated travelers starts on May 8.
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Barbados' relaxed policy toward vaccinated travelers starts on May 8.

With its new bifurcated restrictions, Barbados joins Estonia, Guatemala and Slovenia in creating different entrance requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers. Most require vaccinations to be completed within two weeks of arrival, and some accept only U.S.-made or Europe-made vaccines.

Here's how several countries are approaching the divide:

·        Croatia: Vaccinated travelers only need to show vaccine certificates to enter, but unvaccinated travelers need to test negative for Covid-19 (or show proof of recovery) and possibly self-isolate while awaiting test results.

·        Iceland: Lets vaccinated (and previously infected) travelers, regardless of origin, enter if they test negative on arrival. Many unvaccinated European travelers — plus residents of Australia, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand — can enter by testing negative twice and quarantining for five to six days. All other unvaccinated travelers, including Americans and Canadians, are prohibited from entering.

·        Belize: Vaccinated travelers need no tests to enter, but unvaccinated travelers (including children 5 years and older) must test negative before or after landing. Those who test positive must quarantine for at least 14 days at the traveler's expense.

·        Georgia: Vaccinated travelers from all countries can enter by air,  while unvaccinated travelers must hail from certain countries and test negative before and after arriving.

Will more places use vaccine-based policies?

Yes, said Gloria Guevara, president of the London-based World Travel & Tourism Council.

"As the vaccine rollout continues to pick up pace, more and more countries will no doubt follow suit," she said.

The U.S. state of Hawaii is currently working on letting vaccinated visitors bypass testing and quarantine requirements, according to local media. Lt. Gov. Josh Green indicated children will still need to test negative to enter, but kids of vaccinated parents may be exempt from testing if Hawaii reaches herd immunity, as reported by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Phuket, Thailand, and Greece have indicated less restrictive vaccine-based protocols are in the works.

Such policies make "perfect sense," said Harry Nelson, the founder of Los Angeles-based health care law firm Nelson Hardiman.

"My anticipation is that this will eventually be the rule in the vast majority of countries and that, at some point in the future … we will see some countries shift to a vaccination requirement," he said.

Are these policies fair?

No, said Nelson, "but the complaints about fairness are, in my view, ridiculous."

He cited long-standing precedents for countries imposing proof of vaccinations for visitor entry, particularly with yeIlow fever. He said that the ongoing threat of Covid-19 variants makes it "fully reasonable for countries to impose vaccination requirements."

"Fair is a concept that is irrelevant when it comes to controlling a highly infectious virus that is transmitted around the world," he said.

Regarding Hawaii's vaccine-based plans, Lt. Gov. Green told Honolulu local television station KHON that "We don't discriminate against anyone. If they are against being vaccinated and they want to travel, they can just get [a] test, no big deal."

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"Every country has the right to set its public health policy as it sees fit," said health care attorney Harry Nelson.

Guevara said while the World Travel & Tourism Council is against requiring vaccines to travel, the organization supports the introduction of a short-term health pass such as the European Commission's "digital green certificate" to further enable safe international travel.

"We should not discriminate against those who wish to travel, but have not been vaccinated," she said. "We know it will take a significant amount of time to vaccinate the global population, particularly those in less advanced countries, or in different age groups."

Travel security firm International SOS is working with the International Chamber of Commerce to establish standards for the digital AOKpass, said Dr. Robert Quigley, global medical director at International SOS.

He said digital vaccine passport apps "are not being developed to be discriminatory, but conversely to help the travel industry get back on track and to help ensure the health and safety of citizens and travelers."

Nelson said "the politics" related to fairness arguments and opposition to vaccine passports is a hindrance.

"We need to acknowledge the practical reality we are living with in these times and deal with it," he said.

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