With fully vaccinated Americans now able to book trips to the U.K. and the EU without quarantine, the pressure is building for the U.S. to reciprocate and allow people to enter the U.S.–many of whom have been separated from families and loved ones for over a year.
Currently, Americans can visit most of the EU with a vaccination certificate or a negative Covid-19 test result and from August 2, the U.K. will open its doors to fully vaccinated Americans without the need for quarantine.
On 26 July, however, the White House confirmed that it has no current plans to change the existing travel ban and that the U.S. will “maintain existing travel restrictions.” The reason given was concerns over the Delta variant, both across the U.S. and overseas, as reported by The Telegraph.
Issues with the ‘Delta variant’ argument
Some are arguing that because the Delta variant arrived in the U.S. when the travel borders were closed that there would be theoretically no need to keep a travel ban in place for fully vaccinated travelers from the U.K. or the EU.
Currently, nearly 61% of the U.S. population are fully vaccinated compared to just over 70% of the U.K. population, as reported by The Telegraph. What’s more, The New York Times has noted that despite an early lag, the EU has now overtaken the U.S. in terms of vaccination rates.
Tori Emerson Barnes, vice president of public affairs and policy at the U.S. Travel Association, said that the travel ban has “not prevented the Delta variant from entering the U.S.” and “we respectfully urge the Biden administration to revisit its decision in the very near term and begin reopening international travel to vaccinated individuals, starting with air corridors between the U.S. and nations with similar vaccination rates.”
Germany’s transatlantic affairs coordinator, Peter Beyer, has added his voice to the people urging the Biden administration to reconsider the travel ban for Europeans, arguing that industry urgently needs “fact-based reciprocity in the entry rules between the US and the Schengen area.”
The ‘jobs are at risk’ argument
Martin Ferguson, Vice President of Public Affairs at American Express Global Business Travel commented that the U.K. announcement was a “welcome boost to the travel industry, trade and the UK’s economic recovery” adding that “this evidence-based approach is a step in the right direction.”
Ferguson called on the U.S. and the U.K. for the safe reopening of vital transatlantic routes, saying “it is vital that the Biden administration reciprocate by lifting the 212(f) restrictions at the earliest possible opportunity. Failing to do so will keep millions of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic at risk.”
The chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, Shai Weiss, urged the U.S. to rescind the travel ban for the same reason. As reported by AP News, Weiss said that, “a continued overly cautious approach towards international travel will further impact economic recovery and the 500,000 U.K. jobs that are at stake.”
The U.S. is playing it safe
It can be difficult to know how the Delta variant will play out across the U.S.–The New York Times makes it clear that the Delta variant has behaved in mysterious ways.
Although there has been a fourfold increase in daily cases of Delta across the U.S. throughout July, hospitalizations and deaths are growing at much lower rates and spikes are limited to a handful of states.
The New York Times research shows that after a huge increase in infections across India and the U.K., infection rates dropped. Certainly in Britain, the outbreak has been much milder than planned–whilst experts predicted that daily cases would peak at around 200,000, the peak was at 47,000 per day and is now about 30,000. Experts suggest that the decline doesn’t correspond enough with the late-arriving summer weather, the end of the Euro soccer championships or school summer holidays and that something else is at work. The data shows that–as with influenza, one century earlier–an outbreak “often fizzles mysteriously, like a forest fire that fails to jump from one patch of trees to another.”
However, it is also in everyone’s interest to only lift the travel ban once. As British holidaymakers have discovered over the course of the past year, weekly changes to travel lists can change quarantine and testing requirements rapidly, leaving many people stranded, paying exorbitant fees to return home to avoid restrictions and can put people out of pocket entirely. German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed on her visit to the White House, saying of the removal of the travel ban that “it has to be a sustainable decision,” adding that, “it is certainly not sensible to have to take it back after only a few days.”
Reciprocity will come, eventually
British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told AP News that he did expect the U.S. to ease restrictions on travel but he didn’t say when he thought that would be. “We can only set the rules at our end,” Shapps told the press. “We can’t change that on the other side, but we do expect that in time they will release that executive order, which was actually signed by the previous president, and bans inward travel.”