Joe Biden’s administration plans to retain coronavirus travel restrictions on much of Europe, the United Kingdom and Brazil, aides to the president-elect said, shortly after the White House announced plans to lift the measures on 26 January.
Donald Trump signed an executive order late on Monday, ending the travel restrictions that he imposed in March 2020, and instead requiring that travelers present proof of a negative Covid-19 test to enter the US.
But soon afterwards, Biden’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said the measures would remain in place. “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 said on Twitter. Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated on Wednesday.
“On the advice of our medical team, the administration does not intend to lift these restrictions,” Psaki said. “In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of Covid-19.”
Trump’s executive order would have ended travel restrictions from the UK, Ireland, Brazil and the Schengen area of 26 European countries.
That would have allowed people from those countries who are not citizens or legal permanent residents to visit the United States, as long as they had a negative Covid-19 test within three days of traveling.
American citizens and legal permanent residents will continue to be able to travel from these countries.
It is unclear whether citizens and legal permanent residents will still need to test negative for Covid-19, as ordered by the Trump administration on 12 January. Trump’s executive order left in place restrictions on Iran and China, citing the countries’ “lack of transparency” on the pandemic.
The US is currently experiencing an acceleration of Covid-19 deaths. Senior members of the incoming Biden administration have repeatedly said they expect the pandemic will “get worse before it gets better”. Nearly 400,000 Americans have died of the disease, making it one of the worst-hit nations in the world.
Models published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) forecast up to 477,000 Americans will die from the disease by the end of January. As well, the CDC believes the more contagious Covid-19 variant B117 is circulating in “most” US states and that it will overtake dominant strains by March. Mass vaccination campaigns have also gotten off to a rocky start, with just over 12 million people vaccinated, fewer than initially expected.
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences found the US has been so hard-hit that American life expectancy will probably drop by one year, the largest single-year decline in four decades. Minority populations are set to suffer worse declines in life expectancy.
The airline industry, which has seen a 95% decline in travel from European countries, had hoped to see the end of the restrictions, even as one high-profile panel tasked with examining systemic failures that allowed the spread of the virus found the measures have probably been helpful.
The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, a World Health Organization group, recently found travel and trade restrictions have “most likely been helpful in curbing transmission”.