Related Topics

  • Coronavirus pandemic

image source, Reuters

The US is relaxing its Covid travel restrictions, ending an 18-month ban on UK and EU passengers.

From November, passengers will be allowed to travel to the US if they are fully vaccinated and undergo testing and contact tracing, the White House said.

Donald Trump introduced the travel ban in March 2020.

There had been much speculation in recent months about when President Joe Biden would change the rules.

White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients announced the "new international air travel system" on Monday, explaining that the country would be opening up to fully vaccinated passengers.

"This is based on individuals rather than a country based approach, so it's a stronger system," he said.

He said vaccines were the "best tool we have in our arsenal" to keep people safe.

The new rules don't affect land travel. The order restricting overland travel to the US from Mexico and Canada is still in place.

Under the current rules, only US citizens, residents and foreigners with special visas are allowed to enter the US from the majority of European countries.

One British official told the BBC that the decision had come completely out of the blue. Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been planning to raise it on Tuesday in his meeting in the White House with the president, but with little hope of making progress, the official said.

Airline shares rose following reports of the new travel rules.

For months a joint working party has been looking at ways to relax the travel ban. The work, I'm told, has been detailed and assiduous.

But last Friday in Washington next to no one (not even in the Biden administration) was expecting today's announcement. So what's changed?

The Biden administration is aware of the growing disquiet among European allies about a range of issues – Afghanistan notably, but in recent days French fury over the Aukus submarine deal. And remember France is America's oldest ally.

This week Joe Biden will be meeting, not only Boris Johnson, but a whole pile of EU leaders during the UN General Assembly in New York. And all had it on their dance cards to raise the travel ban.

According to one diplomatic source, the US over the weekend just weighed the countervailing forces: annoy some Americans with a policy that could be characterised as being weak on Covid; or continue to alienate your European allies who are growing increasingly irritable.

With the data no longer supporting the ban, this weekend came a decision. Out of the blue in one way, but quite logical in another.