The industry has been holding its breath, waiting for transatlantic travel to open back up in earnest. It seems it will have to wait a little while longer to exhale. The United States is not yet ready to lift its international travel restrictions due to concerns over the contagious Delta variant, officials said Monday.
Delta strain dominating
The highly contagious Delta strain of coronavirus has become the dominant type in much of Europe, the World Health Organization declared late last week. It has also wreaked havoc in India, spread across at least 100 countries of the world, and poses a significant threat to places with low vaccination rates. Furthermore, it is now the dominant strain in the US, accounting for more than 80% of infections and a surge of deaths among people who had not yet received their jabs.
The potential lifting of travel restrictions was discussed at a senior-level White House meeting last Friday. While no public statement has been made as to the contents of the discussion, a White House official shared with Reuters that the long-standing regulations would not be eased any time soon.
“Given where we are today with the Delta variant, the United States will maintain existing travel restrictions at this point. Driven by the Delta variant, cases are rising here at home, particularly among those who are unvaccinated and appear likely continue to increase in the weeks ahead,” the unnamed source disclosed to the news outlet on Monday.
Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.
One-way for the rest of summer
Travel restrictions to the US began at the end of January 2020. At the time, only foreign nationals who had been in China over the past two weeks were not allowed to enter the country. The list has shifted over the past 18 months and today includes the United Kingdom, all of the 26 Schengen nations, as well as Ireland, India, Brazil, China, South Africa, and Iran.
Much of Europe is currently open to travelers from the US without quarantine (in most cases, given testing or full vaccination). However, the news out of Washington may have shattered any hopes airlines still had of making something out of the westward-bound transatlantic summer season.
Case surge delaying process
The last we heard President Biden speak on the matter of lifting transatlantic travel restrictions with Europe was during a press conference with Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel on July 16th.
“It’s in the process now,” the US President said as reported by Reuters. He further added that he would be able to give an answer “within the next several days” and that he was waiting to hear from the COVID team.
However, since then, the US has seen a surge in cases caused by the aforementioned Delta variant. Thus, it seems the COVID team remains thoroughly unconvinced – and deaf to the pleas of airlines on both sides of the pond to reopen travel.