More than a month after the United States was added to the European Union’s list of countries approved for entry, and one week after Canada announced that fully vaccinated U.S. citizens can enter Canada as of August 9, the U.S. has indicated that it will not, in fact, be lifting any existing travel restrictions in kind at this time.
“Given where we are today, with the Delta variant, we will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point for a few reasons,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said during a press briefing on Monday.
“The more transmissible Delta variant is spreading both here and around the world. Driven by the Delta variant, cases are rising here at home, particularly among those who are unvaccinated, and appear likely to continue in the weeks ahead,” Psaki added.
President Joe Biden reinstated several international travel bans in an executive order signed on January 25 that maintained that foreign nationals who have been in the European Schengen area, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, China, Iran, or South Africa in the last 14 days are barred from entering the United States. The order upheld a ban on inbound travel from the majority of those destinations that had been in place since mid-March 2020 (South Africa was added in January).
The decision to uphold the bans comes only 10 days after President Biden told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that a pandemic advisory team had raised the issue of ending European travel restrictions and was “in the process of [considering] how soon we can lift the ban.” At that time he said he should be able to provide more clarity on the issue “within the next several days.”
The U.S. Travel Association, which promotes inbound travel to the U.S., pushed its case for reopening in response to Biden’s remarks to Chancellor Merkel. “The science says we can safely reopen international travel now, particularly for countries that have made considerable progress toward vaccinating their citizens,” the association stated.
It noted that the continuation of the travel bans “wreaks economic damage on our nation, not to mention the personal toll on individuals separated from their families and loved ones. Travel bans related to Canada, Europe, and the U.K. alone cost the U.S. economy $1.5 billion every week—enough to support 10,000 American jobs.”
The Delta variant is a coronavirus mutation first detected in India that spreads more easily than other versions and has now been identified throughout the world. According to U.S. health officials, the Delta variant now accounts for an estimated 83 percent of all U.S. COVID-19 cases. Last week, there was a 32 percent increase in COVID hospitalizations from the previous week, health officials said.
The rises come even as the majority of Americans are now vaccinated. At press time, 57 percent of Americans who are eligible to be vaccinated had been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. And 69 percent of American adults have received at least one dose, just shy of the 70 percent goal Biden had set for July 4.
The European Union isn’t too far behind—54 percent of adults have been fully vaccinated, and 68.4 percent have received at least one dose, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The vast majority of European countries are now open to American travelers, regardless of vaccination status. (Americans who are unvaccinated typically must present proof of a negative COVID-19 test result, though the precise rules and restrictions vary by country.)
However, some countries have begun to implement more stringent COVID-related restrictions of late, including France, which now requires a COVID pass to enter the Eiffel Tower, museums, and other venues, and Italy, which is planning a similar COVID pass system that will go into effect on August 6.
And not all countries across the pond have rolled out the welcome mat. Travel to the U.K. from the U.S. is still very prohibitive. The United States is currently on the U.K.’s “amber list” of countries, or countries considered medium risk. Travelers arriving from the U.S. must quarantine for 10 days and take three COVID tests—one within 3 days prior to departure to the U.K., and two (reserved in advance) after arrival, on day 2 and day 8 of the 10-day quarantine.
The U.S. State Department and the CDC last week both raised their warning levels for travel to the U.K. to a “level four” due to rising COVID-19 cases there as well, advising Americans to avoid traveling there.
“Because of the current situation in the United Kingdom, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants,” the CDC said in its updated U.K. travel advisory.
International travel returning is “something we would all like to see—not just for tourism, but for families to be reunited,” the White House’s Psaki said on Friday. “But we rely on public health and medical advice on when we’re going to determine changes to be made.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting.