The relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom has long been called special. Through crisis after crisis — from World War II to the Cold War to the financial crisis in 2008 — our governments have worked as partners to address the great issues of the day. That history is one reason the inability of the two governments to reopen international travel between countries, in light of current vaccination rates and changes in policies from other European countries, is so disappointing.
Just last month, the European Union announced it will reopen travel to vaccinated travelers with some restrictions. While there are many details to work out, it is a signal that there is not only a clear demand to resume travel between the United States and Europe, but also confidence that business and tourism can resume with more reasonable safety protocols in place. The same could be said for travel between the United Kingdom and the United States, especially given the United Kingdom’s new travel policies with other countries.
Last month, the United Kingdom announced that, beginning May 17, travelers coming from twelve “green list countries,” including Portugal, Singapore and Israel, will not have to quarantine upon arrival into England. A glaring omission from the green list was the United States, which was labeled an “amber” country on the traffic light system. The United States’ “amber” status means that all travelers from the United States on arrival to England will need to quarantine in the place they are staying for up to 10 days.
Critically, travelers from the United States must quarantine despite also having to take a COVID-19 test within 72 hours before entry into England, on or before the second day after their arrival; and on or after the eighth day following their arrival. These three COVID-19 tests are required for all such travelers regardless of their vaccination status. Moreover, further guidance states that travel to amber list countries is not advised, thereby discouraging U.K. citizens to travel to the United States to begin with.
This announcement is a stark disappointment, following months of futile negotiations between the U.S. and U.K. governments on how to revive international travel between the two nations. It constitutes an overly cautious approach that fails to reflect the facts on the ground.
First, because blanket quarantine requirements diminish the feasibility of traveling for business, transatlantic routes will effectively remain at a standstill. Keeping U.S.-U.K. travel closed runs counter to both countries’ paths to recovery, since billions of dollars in economic productivity and countless jobs are dependent on face-to-face business engagement between them.
Moreover, the U.K. decision to leave the United States off its green list is not necessarily rooted in science- or risk-based decision-making. Both countries have similar vaccination and infection rates. In the United States, at least 135 million people are fully vaccinated and around 50 percent of the population has received at least one dose. New cases continue to drop across the country, and states like New York, which was once the epicenter of the pandemic, are safely opening restaurants, venues and other gathering places for the summer. Public health officials believe the United States has turned the corner, and the current U.S. presidential administration has demonstrated its ability to mitigate localized outbreaks.
Lastly, the United Kingdom maintains sufficient layers of public health measures to enable a safe, secure travel corridor with the United States. Enhanced cleaning, optimized ventilation, masking requirements and other biosafety measures have helped create an air travel system that minimizes the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Couple this with high vaccination rates in both countries and multiple rounds of COVID-19 testing for travelers, and it is clear just how safe U.K.-U.S. travel can be.
There is, fortunately, an opportunity for President Joe Biden’s administration to step in and advocate on behalf of American travel and tourism businesses. In last month’s announcement, the U.K. government stated that its travel lists will be formally reviewed every three weeks, with the chance of countries being bumped up or down the traffic light system.
Unfortunately, the U.S. government has showed similar caution in reopening travel from the United Kingdom: The travel ban on U.K. citizens, which President Donald Trump instituted over a year ago, remains in place despite the United Kingdom’s administering more than 60 million vaccines as of late last month. This status quo is unnecessary and harmful to our economy at a time of increasing vaccination rates. The Biden administration should reconsider this policy in light of new facts, updated scientific understanding of the safety of aviation and testing capability.
Biden and the State Department should come to the table with U.K. leaders and align our countries on a transparent, risk-based roadmap to reopening safe travel. We can swiftly revitalize our economies and connectivity — but only if both governments return to a reasonable risk analysis befitting our special relationship.
Stewart Verdery, CEO of Monument Advocacy and former assistant secretary for Homeland Security, represents the Travel Management Coalition, a coalition of six of the leading travel management companies.
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