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Yesterday evening Reuters announced that on the order of outgoing President Donald Trump, the United States would be lifting the restrictions that have banned most travelers from Europe, the UK, and Brazil from entering the country since March. Swiftly, however, the incoming administration made it very clear that these bans would be staying in place.
The US first imposed bans on travelers arriving from a wide variety of nations back in March 2020, but for a brief moment last night it looked as if the ban on travelers from most of those nations were going to be rescinded at the same time as rules requiring negative COVID tests for all international travelers come into force on 26 January.
However, despite Donald Trump taking time out from packing yesterday to sign an order to remove the bans in eight days time, Jen Psaki (the soon-to-be White House Press Secretary), took to Twitter to quickly dispel any hopes that Europeans may have had of visiting the US in the immediate future.
There are two surprising elements to all of this.
Firstly, it’s a little unusual for a lame-duck President to take any non-urgent major policy decisions in their last days in office, so I’m not really sure what Trump’s intentions are with this move.
If he is trying to make Biden look like a bad guy (knowing full well that Biden will reverse the decision to rescind the bans), this probably isn’t the way to go about it. I doubt that most US citizens really care that people from Europe, the UK, and Brazil cannot visit right now so it’s unlikely that many people with a favorable view of Biden are suddenly going to think he’s a villain for reintroducing the bans.
If he is trying to look good in the eyes of the powerful travel industry lobby (in a “hey, look, I’m trying to help you out” kind of way), this also seems like a bit of a pointless move. If he really wanted to do the industry a favor he would have lifted the bans a long time ago (not that this is something I would have agreed with), so lifting the bans 48 hours before he leaves the White House looks like nothing more than a token gesture which, in the grand scheme of things, means absolutely nothing. The industry knows this.
Not for the first time, I don’t understand what Trump’s motivation is for this move. It seems a little pointless and futile.
The other strange aspect to all of this is Psaki’s suggestion that the Biden administration plans to “strengthen public health measures around international travel“. How?
The US is already introducing mandatory COVID testing for all international arrivals, the US-Canada border is closed, the USA-Mexico border is closed, and there’s a ban on most travelers from the European Schengen Area, the UK, Ireland, Brazil, Iran, and China, so what more does the Biden administration plan to do?
I guess the new regime could extend the travel bans to countries in Africa – a ban on travel to/from South Africa could make sense given the new coronavirus variant that has recently been detected there – but are there actually any non-stop flights operating between Africa and the US right now?
President Biden could also extend the travel bans to cover various counties in Asia, but as most of those countries have the virus considerably more under control than the United States, this would seem to be a pretty pointless exercise.
If the incoming president is genuinely going to extend any of the international travel restrictions I suspect that South America will be the most likely target. A number of South American countries are now seeing outbreaks of the more contagious strain of coronavirus that was first detected in Brazil, so with carriers like American Airlines still operating flights to destinations across the continent and with pre-departure COVID testing being far from foolproof, it may be that the Biden administration thinks that closing down travel from those countries may be a worthwhile measure.
Right now, this is nothing more than speculation so we’ll have to wait and see what comes out of the new White House in the coming days and weeks.
Outgoing US President Donald Trump has signed an order to lift the bans on travelers from Europe, the UK, and Brazil, but it’s highly unlikely that the order will ever come into effect as the incoming administration of Joe Biden has already indicated that it will be keeping the bans in place and, if anything, strengthening the existing regulations on international travel.
[HT: VFTW for highlighting Trump’s order]