Does Easing Covid Restrictions for Foreign Flights Really Have a Negative Impact on The U.S.?

Athena Boutross and Molly Joe

Recently, President Biden announced that this coming November, the U.S. will ease travel restrictions for international travelers who are vaccinated against COVID -19. This decision will overrule the tight travel bans that the Trump administration originally put in place. This means, by late fall, non-citizens who have traveled to the United Kingdom, European Union, China, India, Iran, Republic of Ireland, Brazil or South Africa in the past 14 days will be able to travel freely – more or less – to the United States. 

According to  the White House COVID-19 coordinator, Jeff Zients, there are many precautions set in place for this plan. Travelers are told to proceed with awareness, as border closures, testing requirements, and insurance needs can change at any time. A negative covid test is required at least three days before the flight to the U.S. from passengers over the age of two, and immediately before returning. Additionally, vaccinated passengers are then required to produce a negative covid test three to five days after returning to the U.S. from their trip abroad. The CDC also advises unvaccinated passengers to quarantine for seven days upon their return, even if they’ve received a negative result. 

While this is a significant step in the renewal of a pre-pandemic economic model, the rise in the Delta variant and the growing number of covid cases among vaccinated individuals in the U.S. continues to grow. Last month, the European Union suggested reimposing travel bans on the U.S. for that reason exactly. Considering the fact that the E.U. has removed the U.S. from its “safe list” as U.S. covid cases surge, this draws the question: are we more of a danger for the foreigners coming here? 

It is no surprise that a significant number of U.S. citizens have not been abiding by the covid restrictions. Although the CDC now – once again – recommends mask wearing in indoor settings regardless of vaccination status, according to AARP, 29 states that had orders broadly requiring residents to wear masks in public have lifted them, 11 of them not having imposed mandates at any point during the pandemic. With the even more contagious Delta variant raging, mask wearing at this point is imperative in the containment of virus transmission. 

Additionally, travel bans have become the source of growing geopolitical frustration. The reason for Biden’s decision to ease flight restrictions is a matter of speculation; although he almost certainly acted to diffuse geopolitical and economic pressures, this decision is one to receive with cautious optimism. 

Despite significant opposition to proposed vaccine and mask mandates, vaccination is a crucial tool in the fight against COVID-19. Data from the CDC and Johns Hopkins University shows that Americans in states with the lowest vaccination rates are four times more likely to be hospitalized due to the virus, and five times more likely to die from it. As of mid-August, three in ten American adults still remain unvaccinated. Dr. Peter Hotez, a Dean at Baylor College of Medicine, reports that at least eighty percent of the U.S. population will need to be vaccinated in order to interrupt the spread of the virus. Although right-wing political figures continue to decry vaccine mandates on ideological grounds and perpetuate myths about vaccine efficacy, the truth remains: low vaccination rates pose an objective threat to public health. So, when the U.S. reports the second-highest number of Delta variant cases worldwide, why scrutinize travelers who can provide proof of vaccination and a negative COVID test? Meaningful discourse on COVID issues necessitates an acceptance of the data tracking new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths — none of which are directly correlated to travel of the vaccinated. 

However controversial, there is no doubt that the decreased international travel rates have had a negative impact on the economy. According to the International Air Transport Association, as of July 2021, the domestic travel rates had recovered to around 84% of its 2019 numbers, while international travel was only up to 26%. This is extremely damaging to the whole ecosystem of related commerce, since it not only impedes work for airplane pilots whose job is to fly to these places, but also for everybody else that depends on them. Business transactions are also much more difficult to carry out virtually, as face-to-face interaction has become an integral factor to the business process. 

Thus, Biden’s decision was met with a rousing cheer from multiple businesses, airline companies, and travellers around the globe. The easing of foreign flight restrictions will not only help fill the revenue losses faced by tourism and trade, but will also resolve the labor shortages met by business groups, thus further recovering the U.S. economy. Moreover, the reunion of countless family, friends, and business colleagues overseas will be embraced with relief and exhilaration, as thousands of foreign families have been kept apart for almost the entirety of the pandemic. Ultimately, this is a decision long overdue. 

In the end, is the partying American college student really safer than the business woman traveling from the U.K. to the U.S.? We think not.