The Trump administration enacted travel bans early last year, first with China in January, and then with Europe in March. These travel bans prevented anyone who had been to certain countries – including China, Iran, the United Kingdom, most of Europe and Brazil – who was not a citizen or a legal permanent resident of the U.S. from entering if they had been to any one of the restricted locations in the past two weeks.
Under Trump’s latest proclamation, which he announced late on Monday, any travel restrictions placed on foreign nationals coming from much of Europe as well as Brazil will be annulled, while restrictions placed on China and Iran will remain in place. The rollback will take effect on Tuesday, Jan. 26.
“Public health officials in the jurisdictions have a proven record of working with the United States to share accurate and timely COVID-19 testing and trend data, and the United States has active collaborations with the jurisdictions regarding how to make travel safe between our respective countries,” read Trump’s latest executive order.
“As a result of that accord, the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of the CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.
The executive order explained that the cooperation of these national entities “stands in stark contrast” with the unfriendly behavior shown to the U.S. by governments and state-owned entities and corporations from China and Iran. These have repeatedly failed to cooperate with public health authorities and have refused to share accurate and timely information regarding the spread of the coronavirus within their borders.
According to Biden’s spokeswoman Jen Psaki, the former vice president’s incoming administration will be placing the travel restrictions back as soon as possible.
“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” wrote Psaki on Twitter.
“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
Trump’s coronavirus task force has been considering lifting travel restrictions for some time now. The travel bans used to be a core element in the country’s response to the outbreak but people within the task force have acknowledged that they did very little to help the country since – by the time they were implemented, the virus was already circulating widely.
Many people and organizations have been lobbying the Trump administration to allow free travel to resume. This includes government officials from the U.K. and the European Union, as well as representatives from airline groups.
According to Dr. Martin Cetron, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, the travel restrictions didn’t help the country’s public health. Instead, all it did was make the economy suffer more than it had to.
“We learned that the opening strategy of banning locations and asking about exposures and doing fever checks just didn’t cut it,” said Cetron. “We had to pivot.”
Lifting these restrictions would not necessarily open more destinations to American travelers, since many countries still have bans on allowing U.S. citizens entry. But it could allow for reciprocal agreements between the federal government and a foreign entity to allow each other’s residents to cross their borders.
Biden more likely to tighten coronavirus travel restrictions than loosen them
Despite the understanding from public health officials and other experts that travel restrictions may be pointless, it seems likely that Biden’s incoming administration will actually tighten travel restrictions.
Experts believe that, in addition to travel restrictions for people who aren’t citizens or legal permanent residents, the Biden administration will push forward with new requirements before people will be allowed to travel, including a recent COVID-19 test and possibly mandatory quarantine periods before or after their flight. (Related: Here it comes: If you want to board a plane or travel internationally, you’re going to have to have a COVID “vaccine passport.”)
This is expected to make travel even more difficult than it already is, especially since very few airports are currently well equipped enough to deal with the disruptions and long delays that come with making sure everybody on the flight has been tested, along with new hygiene protocols put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the flight.
With uncertainty spreading about the new variants of the coronavirus, these and other restrictions are most likely going to tighten over the next few months.
These worries have already forced many other countries to renew certain travel restrictions. In response to a new strain that likely originated in Brazil, the U.K. said that it would be closing its borders to travelers from South America and Portugal for a short while. Another strain, first identified in the U.K. has similarly forced many countries to close their borders to travelers from Britain.
Learn more about how Biden plans to deal with the coronavirus pandemic by reading the latest articles in Pandemic.news.