Passengers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will be able to travel to the US from anywhere in the world from November, the Biden administration has announced, bringing an end to the series of travel bans first imposed by Donald Trump 18 months ago.
The White House said on Monday that anyone wanting to fly to the US would have to show proof of having been fully vaccinated and a negative test taken in the previous three days, starting in early November. They will also have to wear a mask for the journey and to share their telephone number and email address for contact tracing.
Since last year, people without US citizenship, green cards or specific exemptions have been banned from travelling to the US if they have been in the UK, Ireland, the Schengen area, China, India, Iran, South Africa or Brazil in the previous 14 days.
The US announced the new system just as foreign leaders arrive in New York for the UN general assembly, and a day before US president Joe Biden is due to meet the British prime minister Boris Johnson at the White House.
“This new system allows us to implement strict protocols to prevent the spread of Covid from passengers flying internationally to the United States. Requiring foreign nationals travelling to the United States be fully vaccinated is based on public health,” Jeff Zients, the head of Mr Biden’s Covid-19 task force, said on Monday. “This is based on individuals rather than a country-based approach.”
Mr Johnson tweeted on Monday that the move was “a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again.”
The travel bans were first put in place by Mr Trump last year as his administration tried to slow the spread of Covid-19. He removed them on his final day in the White House but they were immediately reimposed by Mr Biden.
The Biden administration had been cautious about reversing the bans, despite heavy pressure from London and Brussels, as the contagious Delta variant of coronavirus spread rapidly.
The US Centers for Disease Control is drawing up a list of which vaccines will be accepted by the US. The Food and Drug Administration has authorised vaccines made by BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Officials said the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been used widely in the UK and EU, is also likely to be accepted. But it is not yet clear whether other vaccines, such as those used in China and Russia, will be accepted by US authorities.
Those involved in clinical trials for vaccines that are not yet approved in the UK will also be allowed to enter the US, a policy that will apply to about 40,000 people.
Shares in IAG, the owner of British Airways, jumped more than 10 per cent on Monday afternoon to trade at 165.3p mid-afternoon in London, as investors cheered the prospect of a return to transatlantic travel. Sean Doyle, BA chief executive and chair, said the opening will “provide a huge boost to Global Britain as it emerges from this pandemic”.
“BA-owner IAG is a clear winner from this as its transatlantic business has been all but mothballed since the grounding of its jets due to the US policy,” said Neil Wilson, chief market analyst for Markets.com.
Other airline stocks rose following the news, including low-cost carrier easyJet, which climbed 3.4 per cent in London. Air France’s shares were trading 6.7 per cent higher in Paris, while Lufthansa gained 5.3 per cent.
Paul Charles, an adviser to several travel companies including Finnair and Tourism Ireland, described the reopening of travel for fully vaccinated passengers between Europe and the US as “probably the best news for the travel sector yet during the pandemic”.
“It’s an early Christmas present for BA, Virgin Atlantic and Aer Lingus who can’t fully recover until the transatlantic corridors open up,” he said.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, an industry association that represents carriers including BA and Virgin Atlantic, hailed it as “major breakthrough”.
Despite the more positive outlook for airlines, Mr Wilson cautioned that there were still “lots of caveats and reason to be cautious” given remaining uncertainties, for example over what vaccines will be acceptable and whether children will need to have vaccine passports.
US airlines including American, United and Delta welcomed the news, although their stocks did not respond as robustly as their UK and European counterparts. Although the reopening helps carriers on both sides of the Atlantic, Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth said, it disproportionately benefited UK and European airlines, which sell 60 per cent of their tickets in their home markets.
If restrictions are lifted quickly enough, travellers should be able to book tickets for Christmas, and possibly Easter, she said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021