US travel industry urges Biden to end international COVID bans

March 24, 2021
Photo: O'Hare International Airport.

US airline, union and travel groups have united to push the Biden administration to quickly re-open international travel and develop a roadmap by early May to axe COVID quarantine requirements.

The groups argue a move to free up travel to inbound from top markets by July 4 would accelerate economic recovery by adding $US30 billion to incremental spending and bringing back 225,000 jobs.

In a March 22 letter to COVID-19 Response team Coordinator Jeffrey Zients, representatives of the US aviation, travel and tourism industries argue it is possible to develop a “risk-based, data-driven roadmap’ to rescind inbound international travel restrictions while protecting against the spread of COVID.

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The groups are hoping to capitalize on moves by the Biden Administration to boost the availability of COVID vaccines, expand testing capacity and bolster the US public health system’s ability to respond to the virus.

They note about 13 percent of Americans are now fully vaccinated against the virus “with millions more receiving the vaccinations each day”.

Airlines have been arguing for some time that the risk of catching the virus while flying is lower than other activities such as eating at a restaurant because of high-quality air filtration systems in aircraft and COVID responses such as disinfection and face masks.

The global industry is also calling on governments to adopt a standardized system for checking vaccine certificates and test results.

The groups say they do not support the removal or easing of core public health protections such as mask mandates, inbound international testing requirements, physical distancing or other measures designed to make travel safer.

But they want vaccinated travelers to be exempt from international travel requirements “while avoiding vaccine requirements as a prerequisite to travel”.

This would include updating Centers for Disease Control guidance to state that vaccinated people can travel safely.

They also want uniform Federal principles for COVID-19 health credentials by ensuring the wide array of available technologies can securely validate test results and vaccination history while protecting personal privacy.

Other items on the wish list include a quick start to bilateral negotiations between jurisdictions to create travel corridors and putting international travel at the top of the agenda for the upcoming G-7 meeting.

“The need for a data-driven, risk-based roadmap to reopen international travel is urgent. In 2020, overseas travel to the U.S. declined by 8 percent while travel from Mexico was down by 62 percent and Canada by 77 percent —causing a loss of $US146 billion to the US economy,’’ the letter says.

“ If nothing is done to lift international travel bans and bring back demand, the US Travel Association estimates that a total of 1.1 million American jobs will not be restored and $US262 billion in export spending will be lost by the end of 2021.

“However, if travel from the top inbound markets to the U.S is able to safely resume by July 4, 2021, and reach an average of 40 percent of 2019 levels for the remainder this year, it would accelerate economic recovery by adding $US30 billion in incremental spending and bringing back 225,000 American jobs.”