The White House has confirmed that the US will not lift any of its current travel restrictions amid concerns over the rising number of coronavirus cases in the US and the spread of the highly transmissible COVID-19 delta variant.
“Driven by the delta variant, cases are rising here at home, particularly among those who are unvaccinated, and appear likely continue to increase in the weeks ahead,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.
The decision came after a senior level White House meeting late on Friday, according to Reuters.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden told reporters at a July 15 press conference that his administration was reviewing COVID-19 travel restrictions, promising a decision could be reached “within the next several days.” Some in the travel industry interpreted the comment as a hint that the travel bans were about to be eased.
However since that press conference, COVID-19 cases in the US have spiked, according to Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC reports daily moving average of new cases reported in the US topped 40,000 last week, compared to 27,000 the week prior.
By comparison, at the peak of the pandemic in January, the US was averaging over 250,000 new cases daily. By the week of June 19, that average had dipped to under 12,000 new cases a day.
The CDC attributes much of the current rise in case numbers to the delta variant, which now accounts more than 80 percent of new cases in the US and has been detected in more than 90 countries. Most of the new cases are found among unvaccinated individuals.
Sticking to the Rules
The rules that have kept much of the world from traveling to the United States during the pandemic have been in place since March 2020. The White House has come under increasing pressure from airlines and the US travel industry to relax the restrictions.
However the decision to maintain the current travel bans means the US will remain closed to most inbound visitors for the foreseeable future, with any easing of the rules for international travelers not likely to come before September. So far the administration has failed to indicate what benchmarks it would use to determine when it would consider any revision of travel rules.
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security said US land borders with Canada and Mexico will remain closed to nonessential travel until at least Aug. 21. This despite news that Canada’s government would begin allowing entry to fully vaccinated American tourists beginning Aug. 9.
“While other nations, like Canada, the UK and much of the EU, 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,” said Tori Emerson Barnes, US Travel Association’s executive vice president of public affairs and policy issued in a statement.
“COVID variants are of concern,” Barnes’ statement continued. “But closed borders have not prevented the delta variant from entering the US while vaccinations are proving incredibly durable to the virus’ evolution.”
In the statement, USTA urged the Biden administration to revisit the decision “in the very near term,” and reopen international travel “to vaccinated individuals, starting with air corridors between the US and nations with similar vaccination rates.”