U.S. to Maintain Restrictions on Inbound Int’l Travelers

The United States is not ready to lift restrictions on international travel as the Covid-19 delta variant gains a bigger foothold around the world, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a press briefing on Monday.

“Given where we are today, we will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point,” Psaki said. “The more transmissible delta variant is spreading both here and around the world. Driven by the delta variant, cases are rising here at home, particularly among those who are unvaccinated, and appear likely to continue in the weeks ahead.”

The statement came after chatter over the past few weeks seemed to indicate a lifting of the ban was forthcoming. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in June listed restarting international travel as a “top priority” of the federal government, and President Joe Biden earlier this month during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel said an announcement was forthcoming. Several countries in Europe, meanwhile, have been lifting restrictions and allowing vaccinated visitors from the United States.

The White House, however, is using the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as its “north star” on any such decisions, Psaki said on Monday. In its weekly update last Friday, the CDC reported a seven-day average of 40,246 new daily Covid-19 cases, up 46.7 percent from the prior week. The delta variant makes up 83.2 percent of recent U.S. cases, according to the CDC.

The CDC last week also issued a Level 4 advisory against travel to the United Kingdom due to rising Covid-19 cases there, noting that “even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid-19.”

U.S. Travel Association EVP of public affairs and policy Tori Emerson Barnes in a statement urged the Biden administration to reconsider its decision “in the very near term,” noting that the closed borders did not prevent the delta variant from entering and spreading within the United States.

“While other nations, like Canada, the U.K. and much of the E.U., have all taken steps to welcome inbound travelers this summer and rebuild jobs and local economies, the United States remains closed to one of the most important segments of the travel economy: the international inbound traveler,” she said. “Given the high rates of vaccination on both sides of the Atlantic, it is possible to begin safely welcoming back vaccinated visitors from these crucial inbound markets.”

Legacy U.S. airlines in earnings calls last week expressed optimism about the upcoming months, though most of that enthusiasm centered on domestic U.S. travel, including an expected rebound in business travel in the fall, and short-haul international travel to such vacation destinations as Mexico and the Caribbean. Long-haul international demand and capacity, however, likely will remain shaky as restrictions come and go. 

OAG on Monday reported that global airline capacity this week, traditionally the biggest travel week of the year, was down 1.3 percent compared with last week to 81.6 million seats, down 31 percent from 2019 levels. The transatlantic market, which generated $10.6 billion in revenue from July through October 2019, likely will have only a tenth of that revenue this year, OAG analyst John Grant wrote in his weekly blog.

“Airlines remain as nervous about the next few weeks as an athlete on the starting line in Tokyo, dropping another 2.6 million seats in the last seven days for July and, to the end of October, removing another 27.2 million seats,” according to Grant. “Those are not the actions of an industry confident of a recovery.”

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