While there’s a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to coronavirus, the past couple of days has thrown us for a loop. Since yesterday we’ve seen dozens of countries impose UK travel bans through a variety of measures. Let me share why I don’t think we’ll see a similar policy from the US.
The UK’s faster-spreading COVID-19 mutation
Over the weekend there started to be widespread attention brought to a faster-spreading COVID-19 strain. It’s believed that it’s 70% more transmissible than existing strains of coronavirus, and it’s believed that this is one of the reasons the UK is seeing a big increase in coronavirus cases.
As of now there are more questions than answers about this development, including how long it has been around, and just how widespread it is.
For now parts of the UK have gone into full lockdown, and we’ve seen dozens of countries restrict flights to & from the UK:
- We’ve seen some countries specifically ban nonstop flights from the UK (meaning travelers would need to connect for UK travel)
- We’ve seen other countries ban people arriving from the UK (meaning that people can’t even travel to the UK via a third country)
- Then some countries (like Saudi Arabia) have closed their borders altogether
The whole thing sure gives me flashbacks to earlier this year, when much of the world started closing to China.
While this situation is rapidly evolving, several readers have asked about the odds of the US adding further restrictions against the UK, either in the form of banning nonstop flights, or in the form of banning entries from the UK.
Many countries are adding UK travel restrictions
Why I don’t think the US will add further restrictions
I certainly could be wrong, but I doubt we’ll see the US add further travel restrictions against the UK, simply because we don’t actually have a practical way to do so.
Keep in mind that since March the US has had a UK travel ban, and that still hasn’t been lifted. With this:
- Flights are permitted between the US and UK
- Anyone who has been in the UK in the past 14 days can’t enter the US, with the exception of US citizens, permanent residents, and select other eligible travelers
With that in mind, what kind of a travel ban could the US really institute against the UK, at least based on our current approach towards coronavirus?
- At no point during the pandemic has the US restricted entry to the US for citizens and permanent residents, and I don’t see that changing now; in other words, the current UK travel restrictions already accomplish that
- If the US banned flights between the two countries, that wouldn’t accomplish much, since it would just cause people to connect; it’s not like many people are currently flying between the US and UK for leisure
- It’s one thing if the US had ever had an actual international testing and quarantine program, but it hasn’t and that’s not something that will change overnight; so it’s not like the US could even force Americans returning from the UK to quarantine, beyond any of the current unenforced self-quarantines we see in the US
Could the US ban flights from the UK?
So yeah, while much of the world has now closed its borders to the UK, I just don’t see a practical way for the US to do that at this point. And frankly I’m not sure if that’s for better or worse:
- Presumably there are already some people who made it to the US with this new faster-spreading strain, so it’s unlikely we can keep it out of our borders completely (we’re not Australia or New Zealand, after all)
- At the same time, there’s something to be said for having as few people as possible with it, since it will ultimately slow the spread a bit, which is especially valuable at a time when people are starting to be vaccinated, hopefully leading to decreased infection rates in the coming months
- The problem is that unless travel restrictions are effective immediately, they create a mad rush for people to travel, which is counterproductive
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says that if he had the power to do so, he’d ban all flights from Europe right now, or at least require a negative coronavirus test to get on the plane. While the latter is practical, the former is highly unlikely.
Mayor Bill de Blasio says if he had the power to do it, he would ban flights from Europe right now.
"I think the best solution is at least a temporary travel ban for all incoming flights from Europe and the UK," or at least requiring a negative test before getting on a plane.
— Emma G. Fitzsimmons (@emmagf) December 21, 2020
There’s a faster-spreading COVID-19 mutation in the UK. Presumably it’s also in other parts of the world, but the UK seems to be acknowledging this the most. As a result, we’ve seen countries around the world add new UK travel restrictions, including banning entry for travelers from there.
I certainly could be wrong, but I highly doubt we’ll see the US add further UK travel restrictions. The US already bans non-US residents from entering the US if they’ve been in the UK in the past 14 months. Without a proper mandatory quarantine or testing program in the US, I’m not sure what else the US could really do. Banning nonstop flights won’t do much, after all.
Maybe we’ll see a pre or post-travel testing requirement, though I suspect that’s about the biggest restriction we’ll see.
What do you think — will the US restrict travel from the UK?