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Joe Biden’s administration has taken the first step towards easing pandemic-related travel bans in America, setting up task forces to advise on how to ease restrictions with the UK, the EU, Mexico and Canada.
The White House said on Tuesday it was setting up political teams made up of officials from five different parts of the US government to help decide when and how to allow the entry of non-UK and Schengen nationals. , as well as when to reopen the land borders with its immediate neighbors.
The restrictions have been in place since the early stages of the pandemic, but have come under criticism from foreign governments and the travel industry as the number of cases has declined in many countries and vaccination rates have increased.
A White House official said: “Recognizing the importance of travel to our citizens and their families, and the critical role that trade relations and our transportation sector play in our economies, the Biden administration is launching a series of groups. Expert work with four key partners: Canada, Mexico, European Union and United Kingdom to determine how best to reopen travel safely. “
The Trump administration imposed a series of travel bans early last year in an unsuccessful effort to stem the spread of Covid-19.
Under these rules, any non-American who has stayed in the UK, Ireland, the Schengen area (which includes most EU members as well as Norway, Switzerland and Iceland), China, South Africa, Iran or Brazil in the last 14 days is not allowed to enter the United States.
In one of his last actions in power, Donald Trump abandoned these rules, but they were reimposed by Biden almost immediately after he became President of the United States.
Biden also added India to the list of banned countries.
The land borders with Canada and Mexico also remained closed to anyone undertaking non-essential travel.
The travel rules are among the latest restrictions linked to Covid-19 in the United States, where a rapid vaccination campaign has reduced the number of cases to around 15,000 per day – a level not seen since March of last year.
British officials in particular have called for measures to be relaxed, pointing out that their country’s death rate has been lower than the United States’ per capita since February. British officials told the Financial Times last week that they hoped to use this weekend’s G7 summit in Cornwall to make their case.
The global travel industry has also pressured the Biden administration to reopen US borders, demands that the White House resist, not least because Americans can still travel widely outside the United States, while respecting local quarantine restrictions.
Tuesday’s announcement was the first sign that the rules could be relaxed this summer – although such cross-agency groups often take weeks to come up with concrete proposals.
The five parts of government involved in the task forces are the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Health, and Transportation.