U.S. panels study reopening Canada, Mexico, EU, UK travel

Seen here, a car approaches the U.S. border in Quebec. Tribune News Service

The Biden administration is forming working groups with Canada, Mexico, the EU and the U.K. to examine how to reopen international travel as the coronavirus pandemic eases, a White House official said Wednesday.

The announcement, which came shortly before President Joe Biden arrived in the U.K. for a Group of Seven summit, comes as international allies and airlines have pushed the White House to ease travel restrictions amid a decrease in U.S. coronavirus cases.

The working groups will include members of the White House COVID Response Team, the National Security Council, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Departments of State, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and Transportation, the official said.

The U.S. has signaled it is moving toward reopening travel. The State Department on Tuesday loosened its travel warnings for dozens of nations, including France, Canada and Germany.

The status change — from level 4, or “do not travel” to level 3, or “reconsider travel” — was made after the CDC changed the methodology for its travel health notices, according to the State Department. It was the first major relaxation of such warnings since the early months of the pandemic, and was designed to “provide U.S. travelers detailed and actionable information to make informed travel decisions,” the Department said.

Also this week, business groups called on the Canadian and U.S. governments to relax border restrictions for vaccinated travelers this month, increasing pressure on Justin Trudeau to act swiftly.

Chambers of commerce on both sides of the border, along with other groups, want travelers who’ve been fully inoculated against COVID-19 to be able to cross the border without having to show a negative test or undergo a quarantine, a letter released Tuesday said. The groups want these changes to take effect on June 22, a day after the pact that limits non-essential travel between the two countries is due for renewal, according to the letter, which was reported first by Bloomberg News.

Trudeau is expected to shorten the existing two-week quarantine requirement for vaccinated travelers in coming days, Bloomberg News reported Monday. Tests would still be required, people familiar with the plans said, suggesting the initial Canadian move will fall short of the business groups’ demands.

Easing restrictions this month “to take account of rising vaccination levels would sustain jobs, boost business confidence and allow more families to reunite,” the groups said. “It would help facilitate a safe and gradual return to a more normal life.”

Signatories to the letter include the Canadian and U.S. chambers of commerce, the Retail Council of Canada, the National Retail Federation in the U.S., the Business Council of Canada, industry group the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters and the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

But Wednesday’s announcement, which was reported earlier by Reuters, doesn’t mean the U.S. will reopen travel until an objective analysis by public health and medical experts determines it is safe to do so, the official said.

The White House has “heard very clearly the desire of our friends in Europe and the U.K. to be able to reopen travel across the Atlantic Ocean, and we want to see that happen,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters Monday.

“But we have to follow the science, and we have to follow the guidance of our public health professionals,” he continued. “We’re actively engaging them to determine the time frame.”

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Tribune Wire

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