President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order that lifts the ban on travel from the European Schengen area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Brazil—but the new order likely won’t see the light of day, according to a spokesperson for President-elect Joe Biden.
Trump’s January 18 decision cites a new directive issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on January 12 requiring all international passengers flying into the United States—including returning U.S. citizens—to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to boarding. The CDC’s testing mandate for international arrivals goes into effect on January 26, the same day Trump’s order lifting the travel bans would take effect.
The executive order states that the CDC testing requirement will prevent the spread of COVID-19 by air travelers arriving from Europe and Brazil—and thus justifies removing the outright ban on travel from those regions.
But Trump’s executive order isn’t likely to be carried out by the incoming administration, according to Biden spokesperson Jen Psaki, who will serve as White House press secretary following Biden’s inauguration to the presidency on January 20.
“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” Psaki tweeted on January 18.
“On the advice of our medical team, the [Biden] administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.”
Indeed, the new executive order comes amid reports of new variants of coronavirus emerging in countries such as the United Kingdom and South Africa that have shown to have increased transmissibility. It also comes as the U.S. battles a surge in coronavirus cases.
Psaki tweeted that rather than relax international travel restrictions, the Biden administration plans to “strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”
No additional information was provided regarding what strengthening public health measures would entail.
Trump’s executive order does not apply to China and Iran, for which there’s also a ban in place on foreign nationals visiting the U.S. due to the coronavirus pandemic. While U.S. health officials feel confident Europe and Brazil will cooperate with the CDC directive, “this cooperation stands in stark contrast to the behavior of the governments” of China and Iran, “which repeatedly have failed to cooperate with the United States public health authorities and to share timely, accurate information about the spread of the virus,” according to language used in the order.
There has been a pandemic-incited ban on foreign nationals traveling to the U.S. from the U.K., Ireland, the European Schengen area, China, Brazil, and Iran since mid-March 2020, with exceptions including U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and some family members.
In light of the bans, the airline and travel industries have been pushing governments for months to use COVID testing as a way to further open up travel and borders amid the pandemic.
“A well-planned program focused on increasing testing of travelers to the United States” will be more effective “than the blanket travel restrictions currently in place,” Airlines for America, a trade group that represents the major U.S. airlines, wrote in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence on January 4.
The CDC’s testing requirement for incoming international travelers is a reinforcement of a testing protocol for international travelers that the CDC released in November. In addition to what will now be a required test prior to entering the United States, the CDC recommends that travelers get tested again three to five days after arrival and stay home for seven days after travel. The postflight test is not a requirement but a recommendation asking travelers to stay put for one week after traveling while they await negative COVID test results.