COVID travel restrictions should be eased, tourism, business, airline groups urge Biden White House - Chicago Sun-Times

COVID travel restrictions should be eased, tourism, business, airline groups urge Biden White House - Chicago Sun-Times

Airlines and other tourism-related businesses are pushing the White House to draw up a plan in the next five weeks to boost international travel and eliminate restrictions that were imposed early in the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to the White House, more than two dozen groups say they want people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to be exempt from testing requirements before entering the United States.

They also want the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to say that vaccinated people can travel safely.

The groups say those and other steps will speed up the recovery of the travel and airline industries, which have been devastated by a plunge in travel during the pandemic.

U.S. air travel already is picking up. But passenger traffic is still below 2019 levels.

The organizations calling for relaxing international restrictions include the chief trade group for the nation’s largest carriers, Airlines for America, the U.S. Travel Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They have set a May 1 target for the government “to partner with us” on a plan to rescind year-old restrictions on international travel.

The groups cited the recent decline in reported new cases, hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 in the United States. Nearly 45 million Americans, more than 13% of the population, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to CDC figures.

“The time to plan for and chart a defined roadmap to reopen international travel is now,” they wrote in a letter to White House virus-response coordinator Jeffrey Zients.

The White House referred to remarks by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC direct, who said the health agency is working on new guidance for people who are vaccinated but raised concern about recent increases in new reported cases of coronavirus in many European countries.

“If we look at our European friends, we just don’t want to be at this rapid uptick of cases again, and that is very possible that that could happen,’ Walensky said Monday. “We are so close to vaccinating so many more people …. Now is not the time to travel.”

The airline industry hopes to see the lifting of broad restrictions on travel between the United States and Europe, China and other regions that former President Donald Trump imposed last spring to curb spread of the virus. Most non-U.S. citizens who have been in Europe are barred from entering the country.

The airlines have been lobbying the Biden administration to take a leading role in developing standards for so-called vaccine passports that would allow people to travel freely if they are vaccinated and pass a test for COVID-19. The European Union has proposed a digital health certificate, but the Biden administration has said that’s up to the private sector.

In the past year, the federal government has approved $65 billion to help airlines cover most of their payroll costs in exchange for keeping workers employed, plus billions more in low-interest loans. Most recently, the $1.9 trillion relief package that President Joe Biden signed included $15 billion for airlines.