Aviation industry leaders Airlines for America (A4A), International Air Transport Association (IATA), US Travel Association, among others, have called on the Biden Administration to lift travel restrictions and reopen borders for all international tourists by the first of May.
A letter written to the White House on Monday urges the federal government to develop a “risk-based, data-driven roadmap to rescind inbound international travel restrictions”. The roadmap proposes new guidance for vaccinated travelers, the notion of a vaccine passport, and the initiation of bilateral negotiations to ease travel restrictions through public health corridors.
“The risk of COVID-19 transmission while flying is low,” reads the letter. It further states that the current health protocols, such as mask-wearing and physical distancing, paired with industry-standard air filtration on planes and contact tracing systems are effective in combating the spread of COVID-19 during travel and that this claim is affirmed by scientific research.
The correspondents mentioned within the letter the recent improvement in epidemiological indicators, citing the decline in COVID-19 daily new cases across the country. The ongoing vaccination campaign was noted as a determining factor as “more than one-in-ten American adults (13%) are now fully vaccinated against the virus, with the millions more receiving vaccinations each day.”
Accordingly, adding that as vaccination rates rapidly increase, the threat of the pandemic is steadily fading. Moreover, aviation/tourism businesses, including airlines, airports, and hotels, have invested significantly in health and safety measures to further mitigate the risks.
In this regard, the letter reads, “We are ready to welcome back travelers and keep them safe. And the time to plan for and chart a defined roadmap to reopen international travel is now.”
The requested date of May 1st dovetails the summer travel season – essentially the busiest of the year. The embattled aviation groups emphasized the risk of a second year without international travel to be detrimental to the economy.
U.S. borders were restricted to most non-citizens/residents with the onset of the pandemic in March of last year. When Biden took office in January, the travel ban was extended to several countries including Brazil and most of Europe. The impact reflected heavily on economic activity.
Citing the data, the letter mentions that in 2020, overseas travel to the U.S. declined by 81%, while travel from Mexico was down by 62% and Canada by 77% – causing a loss of $146 billion to the U.S. economy.
“If nothing is done to lift international travel bans and bring back demand,” reads the statement, “the U.S. Travel Association estimates that a total of a 1.1 million American jobs will not be restored and $262 billion in export spending will be lost by the end of 2021.”
It goes on to say that if, however, travel from the primary inbound markets to the U.S. is effectively reinstated by July and is able to reach 40% of 2019 levels for the remainder of this year, economic recovery would advance by an influx of $30 billion in incremental spending while returning 225,000 national jobs.
Within the elements of the road map is information pertaining to vaccinated individuals. The groups say that vaccinated individuals should be exempt from testing requirements, however, vaccination should not be a prerequisite to travel.
They note that the CDC should immediately update its guidance, which currently advises vaccinated travelers to refrain from travel, to rather say that vaccinated individuals can travel safely while, additionally, bypassing obligatory testing.
Prospect of Vaccine Passport
The aviation industry is proposing the development of some form of vaccine passport to verify the health status of individuals. The concept has been actualized by some countries and enterprises, yet is not universally accepted at present. While some view the vaccine passport as the key to restart travel and economies, the World Health Organization (WHO) does not advise for proof of vaccination to be a requisite for travel due to “real ethical and practical concerns”.
Meanwhile, U.S. aviation and travel industry groups say that the government needs to establish “federal principles” to verify vaccination status and test records. In this regard, the letter reads:
“The CDC should provide global leadership by ensuring the wide array of CHC technologies can securely validate both test results and vaccination history, protect personal data, comply with applicable privacy laws, and operate across local, state and international jurisdictions.”
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