The United States will not lift any existing travel restrictions “at this point” due to concerns over the highly transmissible COVID-19 delta variant and the rising number of U.S. coronavirus cases, a White House official told Reuters.
The decision, which comes after a senior level White House meeting late on Friday, means that the long-running travel restrictions that have barred much of the world’s population from the United States since 2020 will not be lifted in the short term.
Citing the spread of the delta variant in the United States and abroad, the official told Reuters: “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 to continue to increase in the weeks ahead.”
Currently, the United States bars the entry of most non-US citizens who in the past 14 days have been in the United Kingdom, the 26 Schengen nations in Europe without internal border controls, or in Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.
Last week, the US Department of Homeland Security said the US land borders with Canada and Mexico would remain closed to non-essential travel until at least August 21 – although Canada said it would begin to allow in tourists Americans fully vaccinated as of August 9th.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Rochelle Walensky said on Thursday the seven-day average of new cases in the United States was up 53% over the previous week. The Delta variant, which was first found in India, now comprises more than 80% of new cases nationwide and has been detected in more than 90 countries.
Airlines have been pressing hard on the White House for months to lift the restrictions, and those restrictions have also generated strong criticism from people unable to see their loved ones.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki on Friday said international travel is “something we would all like to see — not just for tourism, but for families to be reunited.” But he added, “we rely on public health and medical advice on when we’re going to determine changes to be made.”
The Biden administration has refused to offer any metrics that would trigger when it will unwind restrictions and has not disclosed if it will remove restrictions on individual countries or focus on enhancing individual traveler scrutiny.
Reuters reported last week the White House was discussing the potential of mandating COVID-19 vaccines for international visitors, but no decisions have been made, the sources said.
The Biden administration has also been talking to U.S. airlines in recent weeks about establishing international contact tracing for passengers before lifting travel restrictions.