Home General Travel Could the United States ban travel from the UK again?

Could the United States ban travel from the UK again?


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On 8 November, the United States is reopening its borders to travelers originating in the Schengen Area, China, India, Ireland, Iran, Brazil, South Africa, and, of course, the United Kingdom, and while this is certainly a move to be welcomed, anyone taking this as a sign that US travel bans are a thing of the past could be being a little optimistic.

I don’t think that it should escape anyone’s attention that our government has been in no hurry to lift the current travel ban and that we’re only seeing it take the steps that it’s now taking because it has been subjected to significant pressure from foreign governments and powerful travel industry lobbyists. I can’t help but feel that if the Biden administration thought that it could get away with it, we wouldn’t see the current travel bans lifted before next year (when more boosters have been rolled out and agencies have had a chance to assess the flu season at home and abroad).

Still, the bans *are* being lifted (which is great), and families that have been kept apart for far too long for reasons that are definitely not based on “the science”, will finally get to reunite and can start to make up for lost time. But for how long?

Its highly likely that the government is continuing to closely monitor the infection rates, the vaccination rates, and a whole host of other indicators in the counties and regions from where travel will shortly once again be permitted, and it can’t have failed to notice that some of these countries are seeing significant spikes in infection rates.

More worryingly, these spikes are occurring in countries with good vaccination rates (better rates than the US) and this could be concerning to the US government and something which may prompt it to reconsider its border policy.

A few of the Schengen Area countries are seeing spikes in infection rates but unless things really get out of hand, I don’t think that there’s any real chance that the US will shut down travel from mainland Europe again. That would be seen as a very sudden reversal in policy which would affect a lot of nations and it would cast serious doubt on the decision making that has led to the travel bans being lifted on 8 November.

In an ideal world, the government would probably like to keep open the option of banning travel from select Schengen Area countries where infection rates are on the rise, but the freedom of movement permitted within that area would make such a ban impossible to police and more than a little pointless – you either ban travel from the whole area (which would be an embarrassing u-turn for the government) or you don’t have a ban at all.

When it comes to the UK, however, the story is different.

The UK is not part of the Schengen Area and its citizens do not enjoy freedom of movement within Europe so their travels can be monitored with ease. What’s more, the UK has seen a significant rise in infection rates over the past few months and the rates are still not under control. For a government that’s as fixated on infection rates as this one is, that almost certainly concerning.

A few weeks ago (when the US announced that it would reopen its borders), the UK’s infection rate wasn’t a huge discussion point at home let alone abroad, but there are now some very big concerns being raised.

The main concern in the UK isn’t one that surrounds the death rate – the death rate is still considerably lower than it was at the height of the pandemic – but, instead, the main concern surrounds the hospitalization rate.

As the UK heads into winter, a combination of new COVID cases, the flu season, and a whole variety of other illnesses could raise the very real prospect that the nation’s National Health Service will be overwhelmed.

Our government probably won’t lose too much sleep over the UK’s troubles with the NHS, but it will probably be very interested in why its COVID numbers are spiking. More specifically, it will have noticed that the spike isn’t just down to idiots refusing the vaccine and that we now have good evidence to suggest that the effect of the vaccines is wearing off.

That’s not the kind of news the US government wants to hear.

The UK and the US may be long-term allies, but Biden and Johnson are far from the best of friends, so if Biden decides that he’s worried about the significant number of unvaccinated people here at home (where the infection rates are clearly on the way down) and the risk that potentially infectious visitors from the UK pose to them, there’s a real chance that he’ll decide that it’s time to reclose the border to travel from the UK if the UK doesn’t get its infection rate under control and heading in the right direction.

It’s tempting to say that this isn’t going to happen because it would be a regressive step (which it would be) and because it would be embarrassing to the US administration, but I don’t think that last part is necessarily true.

Reclosing the border to the 26 countries of the Schengen Area would undoubtedly be embarrassing, but would reclosing the border to travel from the UK really be seen as that big of a deal on the US political stage?

Yes, it would annoy the airlines (it could put United’s recently announced plans into question) and a few lobbyists would see their blood pressures rise, but that’s not going to be enough to deter an administration that is clearly fixated on keeping US infection rates on a downward trajectory until it gets a lot more people fully vaccinated and until it has administered a lot more booster shots than it has up until now.

Keep in mind the following:

  • Only 58% of the US population is fully vaccinated

  • We have evidence that fully vaccinated people can still get COVID-19 and can still transmit the disease.
  • We know that the tests that the US requires visitors to take before they travel are not robust enough to ensure that infectious people don’t enter the United States.
  • We know that the US government was reluctant to lift the travel ban in the first place.

With all of that in mind, can anyone really say that the US won’t reclose its border to travelers from single nation if that nation has a spiking infection rate?

Allow me to be very clear on what I’m saying here: I’m not saying that the US *will* close its borders to the UK at some point this winter.

What I’m saying is that the US reopening on 8 November is not a sign that we’re back to normal, that things are now all going to head in a positive direction and that the travel world will slowly go back to where it was in 2019.

While the US still has a sizeable percentage of its population that remains unvaccinated, there is a reasonable chance that this administration will not be scared to reintroduce travel restrictions on individual nations where infection rates are spiking. Right now, that puts the UK at risk.

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9 COMMENTS

  1. This is nonsense on several fronts.

    First, the infection rate in the UK is falling currently, so it would be odd to reconsider now.
    Second, if you look at UK infections, the vast majority are in children who are not vaccinated.
    Third, boosters are being rolled out quickly in the UK.
    Fourth, if you look at UK hospitalisations, a) they are still very low and b) they are predominantly unvaccinated people over 70 who have several pre-existing medical conditions.
    Fifth, if he bans the UK, he’s going to have to ban a whole range of other countries (including his beloved Ireland and so many others with higher COVID incidences.
    Sixth, if the bans the UK, he could (and likely would) be construed as admitting that vaccines don’t work, a message that is obviously both wrong and not something he wants to be promoting.

    • 1) I disagree. They are definitely not falling and the 14-day and 7-day averages show that they are not falling yet
      2) I don’t think Biden would care who it is that’s leading the rises and if he did, don’t you think that the fact that the US is set to allow unvaccinated children into the US may give him pause if, as you say, it’s the kids that are doing all the infecting?
      3) You and I clearly defend quickly in very different ways and the mess that has been the booster roll out is a well discussed topic.
      4) I’ve already said that Biden won’t care about the U.K. hospitalisation rate. He will just care about infection rates because the US has considerably more unvaccinated people than the U.K.
      5) Other than Ireland, why would he have to ban anyone else? This is nonsense.
      6) No, it wouldn’t be an admission that vaccines don’t work. It would be an admission that they don’t work in the way we thought the would – the vaccinated can still catch Covid but probably won’t die, the vaccinated can still pass on covid, and the efficacy of the vaccines lasts for a shorter period of time than was hoped.

  2. The UK tests massively – I think it’s about 3-4x that of the US.

    UK infection rate is lower

    Case rate is higher (more tests more cases)

  3. You said – “ A few weeks ago (when the US announced that it would reopen its borders), the UK’s infection rate wasn’t a huge discussion point at home let alone abroad, but there are now some very big concerns being raised.”

    Do you have a source to reference for these concerns being raised, and who is raising these concerns – it is helpful to see where you got your information about these concerns.

    As someone who flies regularly between the USA and UK, I monitor these things, and it is important to know where you get your info from. Or if it is just your own opinion, you should state it as such, so we can ignore it.

    • The concerns are being reported in every single UK newspaper and are discussed in most news bulletins. If you travel to the UK frequently (which is what I believe you mean to say), I’m surprised you haven’t noticed.

  4. Hi mate,

    The Independent newspaper did a Q&A with a Covid data expert about travel implications of rising infection rates across Europe, not just the UK. Remember Germany’s rates are going up massively. So Biden would be questioned why the UK should be banned and not Germany.
    Morocco banned flights from the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, so why would it have to be a whole EU ban or nothing?

    He also stated this – and I quote from the Independent paper comments section from the Covid Expert who was answering questions:

    “4) No imminent likelihood of anywhere else “punishing” Brits for high rates. There is an acceptance in most countries now that we have high rates because we test the most in Europe. What could happen is more restrictions on arrival in some countries such as requirement for PCR even if double vaxed for example.”

    I don’t think a ban is likely to come at any time soon, in my own opinion.

    • Hi

      I think the answer to the “why not Germany?” question is because it would be a pointless ban. Anyone from Germany wishing to get to the US could simply start their journey from any other Schengen country and the authorities wouldn’t know that they had actually come from Germany. This is why the Morocco ban is nothing more than an inconvenience.

      Re. the Covid expert: I agree that there probably isn’t an imminent likelihood of a ban. I’m just wondering how the US will react if the UK’s rate doesn’t get brought under control and the Winter starts to look bad.

      • Is it a pointless ban? I acknowledge the loopholes are there regarding the Schengen free movement zones – but if you lie on an immigration form – have you been in any other countries in the last 14 days – then that’s on you, and as we all get told time and again – never lie on a US immigration form.

        I always wonder if more data sharing goes on than we know about. And a German flying out of Paris to New York, are there chances this could get caught.

        I know it’s probably unlikely. So why did Morocco make a show out of those 3 countries?

        And is it now a “thing” that the USA has to treat the Schengen zone basically as a “state” now?
        Does the US State Dept has to ignore an outlier – say the Czech Republic has a massive spike in cases, if the rest are seemingly under control.
        I see trouble ahead with this….

        • I agree, lying on an immigration form is a terrible idea but as a German citizen can drive across the border to any number of countries without having his/her passport checked or his/her movements noted, the ban by Morroco is more for show than anything else (possibly for domestic consumption?). If there’s no movement tracking, there’s nothing for governments/government agencies to share.

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