US forming expert groups on safely lifting global Covid-19 travel restrictions

The CDC said on Tuesday (June 8) it was easing travel recommendations on 110 countries and territories.
The CDC said on Tuesday (June 8) it was easing travel recommendations on 110 countries and territories.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The Biden administration is forming expert working groups with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and Britain to determine how best to safely restart travel after 15 months of pandemic restrictions, a White House official said on Tuesday (June 9).

Another US official said the administration will not move quickly to lift orders that bar people from much of the world from entering the United States because of the time it will take for the groups to do their work. The White House informed airlines and others in the travel industry about the groups, the official said.

"While we are not reopening travel today, we hope that these expert working groups will help us use our collective expertise to chart a path forward, with a goal of reopening international travel with our key partners when it is determined that it is safe to do so," the White House official said, adding "any decisions will be fully guided by the objective analysis and recommendations by public health and medical experts".

The groups will be led by the White House Covid-19 Response Team and the National Security Council and include the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and other US agencies.

The CDC said on Tuesday it was easing travel recommendations on 110 countries and territories, including Canada, Mexico, Japan, South Africa and Iran, but has declined to lift any Covid-19 travel restrictions.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said the US travel restrictions in place since 2020 are subject to "an inter-agency conversation, and we are looking at the data in real time as to how we should move forward with that".

The Biden administration has faced pressure from some lawmakers who said US communities along the Canadian border have faced economic hardship because of land border restrictions.

Airlines and others have pressed the administration to lift the restrictions that prevent most non-US citizens who have been in the United Kingdom, the 26 Schengen nations in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil from travelling to the United States. The United States also bars most non-essential travel at its land borders with Mexico and Canada.

Airlines for America, a trade group representing American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines and others, praised the working groups but the group believes "these working groups should act quickly to endorse a policy backed by science that will allow travellers who are fully vaccinated to travel to the US. Quickly is the key - we believe the science is there."

United Airlines said it was encouraged the White House was prioritising a plan to reopen air travel to international markets and requested urgency, given the typically busy impending summer travel season.

"Now is the time to implement a reopening strategy for the benefit of both the economy and the travelling public."

On Monday, the heads of all passenger airlines flying between Britain and the United States called on both countries to lift limits on trans-Atlantic travel restrictions.

US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet at the G-7 meeting of advanced economies this week in Cornwall, England.

US and British airline officials said they do not expect Washington to lift restrictions until around July 4 at the earliest as the administration aims to get more Americans vaccinated.

The US Travel Association welcomed the working groups, saying "a public-private task force can quickly develop a blueprint to reopen international inbound travel and jumpstart a sustained jobs and economic recovery".