US maintains travel restrictions as Covid cases keep rising

Rules have barred much of the world's population from country for more than a year

The US on Monday said it would maintain restrictions on international travel to the country, sidestepping European pressure, as cases of the Covid-19 Delta variant continue to rise.

“The more transmissible Delta variant is spreading both here and abroad,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday as to the decision to keep the restrictions.

The Delta variant has contributed to a spike in Covid cases in the US, particularly among unvaccinated people, and Ms Psaki said she expected the trend to continue “in the weeks ahead".

Asked how travel restrictions would help, Ms Psaki said, "[Delta] is the dominant variant in the United States. That doesn't mean that having more people who have the Delta variant is the right step.”

The US has restricted travel from the EU, Britain, China and Iran for more than a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, later adding other countries including Brazil and India.

The EU in June opened up to travellers from the US, with most countries requiring proof of vaccination or negative tests, under pressure from tourism-dependent nations such as Greece, Spain and Italy, which feared another troubled year.

EU leaders have asked the US to show reciprocity, and President Joe Biden on July 15 said he would have an answer on the issue “within the next several days” after appeals from German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Biden administration has refused to offer any clues on when it will walk back the measures and has not disclosed if it will remove restrictions on individual countries or focus on enhancing traveller scrutiny.

Reuters reported last week that the White House was discussing the potential of mandating Covid-19 vaccines for international visitors, but no decisions have been made, sources briefed on the matter said, though the idea remains under active discussion.

The administration has also been talking to US airlines in recent weeks about establishing international contact tracing for passengers before lifting travel restrictions.

The US is seeing a steady increase in new coronavirus infections, with an average of at least 47,000 daily cases reported, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

Mr Biden is receiving some backlash after seemingly declaring “independence from the virus” on July 4 of this year.

The country has still not met his goal of having 70 per cent of the adult population partially vaccinated, though the CDC says that figure hit 69 per cent on Monday.

An overwhelming number of the new cases are among the unvaccinated, though The New York Times reported the US has more than enough vaccine supply to inoculate every adult.

Despite this, the US is right behind Russia in terms of the level of vaccine hesitancy in the country, a Morning Consult study from last week said.

Updated: July 26th 2021, 7:06 PM