The Joe Biden administration has taken the first step towards easing pandemic-related travel bans in America and has set up working groups to advise on how to ease restrictions with the UK, EU, Mexico and Canada.
The White House said on Tuesday it was setting up policy teams made up of officials from five different parts of the US government to help decide when and how non-citizens from the UK and the Schengen areas can enter, and when the country should reopen. turn into. adjacent to the immediate neighbors.
The restrictions have been in place since the early stages of the pandemic but have come under fire from foreign governments and the travel industry as cases have fallen in many countries and vaccination rates have risen.
A White House official said: “The Biden administration recognizes the importance of travel for our citizens and their families, and the critical role trade relationships and our transportation industry play in our economies, and is launching a series of expert working groups with four key partners: Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the United Kingdom to determine how best to safely reopen travel.”
The Trump administration imposed a series of travel bans early last year in a failed attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Under those rules, any non-American who has been to the UK, Ireland, the Schengen Area (which includes most EU Member States and Norway, Switzerland and Iceland), China, South Africa, Iran or Brazil in the past 14 days is the not allowed to enter the US.
As one of his last actions while in office, Donald Trump dropped those rules, but they were reimposed by Biden almost immediately after he became president of the US.
Biden also added India to the list of banned countries.
The land borders with Canada and Mexico have also remained closed to anyone making non-essential travel.
The travel regulations are some of the last remaining Covid-19-related restrictions in the US, where a rapid vaccination campaign has reduced the number of cases to around 15,000 per day – a level not seen since March last year.
British officials in particular have pushed for an easing of measures, pointing out that their country’s per capita death rate has been lower than the US’s since February. UK representatives told the The Washington City Times last week that they hoped to use this weekend’s G7 summit in Cornwall as an opportunity to argue their case.
The global travel industry has also put pressure on the Biden administration to reopen US borders, demands that the White House has resisted, not least because Americans can still travel extensively outside the US, albeit subject to local quarantine restrictions. .
Tuesday’s announcement was the first sign that the rules could be relaxed this summer – although such inter-agency groups often take weeks to come up with concrete proposals.
The five government entities involved in the working groups are the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Health and Transportation.