Travel Bans to Remain Amid Rising Cases

The United States will not lift any existing travel restrictions due to concerns over the highly transmissible Delta variant and the rising number of U.S. coronavirus cases. In this post, we’ll share details and what this means for visitors to Walt Disney World from the United Kingdom, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere. Plus, additional info about Florida’s current wave.

The decision comes after high level meetings between the airline & tourism industry leaders and senior level White House officials. Since late last year, airlines and other travel sectors have lobbied the United States to ease travel restrictions. This push has become more pronounced in the wake of widespread vaccine availability, as the industry attempts to salvage the summer travel season.

While some companies and locations, like Walt Disney World, have seen booming business due to pent-up demand from domestic travelers, this has not been the case across the board. Other destinations and businesses that are more dependent upon international travel continue to suffer. Many airlines, in particular, continue to struggle due to lagging business travel and few international routes.

Earlier this summer, there was optimism about borders reopening and a resumption of international travel, with several airlines forecasting that these routes would restart by now. However, the United States has had setbacks in progress since then.

In addressing the restrictions, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki cited the spread of the Delta variant in the United States and abroad. “Driven by the Delta variant, cases are rising here at home, particularly among those who are unvaccinated, and appear likely continue to increase in the weeks ahead.”

The United States currently bars most non-U.S. citizens who within the last 14 days have visited the United Kingdom, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran, Brazil, or the 26 Schengen nations in Europe without internal border controls (which includes France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Austria, etc.).

Prior to this, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Department stated that land borders with Canada and Mexico would remain closed to nonessential travel until at least August 21, 2021.

The latest 30-day extension by the DHS came after Canada indicated that it would start allowing in fully vaccinated U.S. visitors beginning on August 9, 2021 for non-essential travel. This came after a 16-month ban that was extended over a half-dozen times.

Sources for multiple outlets indicated that the United States’ decision was delayed so the administration could avoid the difficult question of whether to follow Canada’s lead and require all visitors to be vaccinated before entering the United States. Apparently, there is still internal debate among members of the administration as to whether entry will be limited to fully vaccinated Canadians.

Last month, the United States launched interagency working groups with the European Union, Britain, Canada, and Mexico to look at how to lift travel and border restrictions. That process was impeded by increasing concern about the Delta variant, along with sizable increases in new cases, and outbreaks occurring in parts of the South with low vaccination rates.

These same concerns resulted in the U.S. State Department and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both elevating their warning levels for travel to the United Kingdom because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases in that country.

The United States government moved the UK to Level 4, advising Americans to avoid travel there and recommending that anyone who must travel to the United Kingdom be fully vaccinated before doing so. At the start of summer, the United States had lowered the UK advisory to Level 3.

Since then, new coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom appear to have peaked and begun decreasing every day for the past week. Yesterday, Britain reported its lowest daily total of new cases since July 4.

The UK government believed the likelihood of a significant wave of deaths or hospitalizations was low due to a high vaccination rate (over 70% of adults) that would limit the risk of serious illness, even if it did not fully stop new infections. It would appear that assessment has been vindicated. Although deaths lag cases, there has not been the significant spike of deaths in the United Kingdom following the latest wave of cases there.

As we reported in our latest Walt Disney World news roundup, new cases in Florida have surged in the last couple of weeks. The state is once again a hotspot, accounting for approximately 20% of the nation’s daily cases. There are a variety of causes for this, but as we pointed out there, Florida also saw peak case numbers last July. It has been an incredibly hot month, which drives people indoors where the likelihood of transmission is higher.

Hospitalizations are also increasing in Central Florida. AdventHealth’s ICU is full, and the system reported overall COVID-19 hospitalization numbers near the peak of 900 patients the health system saw back in January. Over 90% of AdventHealth’s hospitalized coronavirus patients are unvaccinated. Orlando Health is reporting similar percentages.

What remains to be seen is whether the United States sees the same decoupling of cases and deaths observed in the UK. Weekly reports from the Florida Department of Health break down vaccination rates by age, and show a stark contrast–less than 40% of those under age 30 are vaccinated, whereas 84% of those age 65+ are vaccinated.

While the exact percentages undoubtedly vary from state to state, that same general pattern among age groups likely holds true throughout the country. Severe outcomes are less likely for both younger individuals and the fully vaccinated who have breakthrough infections, which paints a slightly more optimistic picture than the rising case numbers present on their face.

There are other glimmers of optimism even amid this current surge. On Monday, former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb (who has become my favorite voice throughout this as a straight-shooter who offers nuanced analysis and tells the truth, good or bad, rather than what he thinks people supposedly need to hear) stated that he expects the United States’ trajectory to mirror that of the United Kingdom with a fall in cases in the next two to three weeks. The US has consistently been about 2-3 weeks behind the UK throughout the pandemic, so this is probably a sound assessment.

In an interview, Gottlieb told CNBC: “If the U.K. is turning the corner, it’s a pretty good indication that maybe we’re further into this than we think and maybe we’re two or three weeks away from starting to see our own plateau here in the United States.” He indicated that it’s likely the U.S. is deeper into this wave due to an undercounting/reporting of cases. This is because more people are likely mildly symptomatic because they’re younger or have been vaccinated, so they aren’t presenting for testing.

These numbers and the trajectory of the pandemic will likely have an eventual impact on international travel restrictions and bans, circling this back to the main topic of this post. The the current uptick in vaccinations continues and/or this wave is not as bad as prior ones, that could bode well for the future prospects of travel.

Nevertheless, it’s now expected that the United States won’t make a decision on reopening the borders to Canada, Mexico, and/or the United Kingdom until September 2021, at the earliest. This undoubtedly disappointing news for international Walt Disney World fans hoping to visit later this summer or early fall. Hopefully, the situation reverses in time for the kickoff of the 50th Anniversary in October.

The ongoing restrictions have brought criticism from some businesses and individuals viewing them as both unsustainable and insufficient measures for curbing the spread of variants (Americans are now able to travel abroad to Europe and elsewhere). The airlines have repeatedly called on the United States to establish a framework for safely resuming international travel.

For its part, the White House has acknowledged a desire to unwind travel restrictions. However, the administration has not yet offered any plan or metrics that would trigger a relaxation or end to the travel bans. They have also not indicated whether restrictions on individual countries or enhanced individual traveler scrutiny–like vaccine mandates, testing, or post-arrival quarantines–might be utilized to gradually reopen borders.