Boris Johnson has hailed Joe Biden’s decision to finally allow fully-vaccinated Brits to visit the US, with the current travel ban due to be lifted from November.
Mr Johnson has been appealing to the US President to loosen the harsh rules and the White House has now announced it is lifting the 18-month blanket ban on foreign travellers entering the country.
The Prime Minister said the reopening of travel to the US is ‘a fantastic boost for business and trade’.
He also said it will be ‘great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again’.
Britain dropped restrictions on fully-vaccinated US visitors in July as a ‘goodwill gesture’.
But, to the concern of ministers – and anger of the travel industry – the US was yet to reciprocate.
Today’s decision was welcomed by the travel sector, as aviation chiefs said air links between the two countries are ‘part of the bedrock of the global economy’.
White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients, who announced the end of the travel ban, said all foreign visitors will need to demonstrate proof of vaccination as well as proof of a negative test taken within the previous three days.
Airlines will be required to collect contact information from international travellers so that they can be traced if required.
The White House has announced fully-vaccinated UK travellers will be able to visit the US from November. Boris Johnson has been pushing Joe Biden to make the move
Too late for Emma – Biden lifts UK travel ban that barred US to most Brits for 18 months
The vast majority of UK citizens have been barred from entering the United States since the height of the first wave of Covid last year.
On March 16, 2020, then president Trump blocked entry to British nationals if they had been in the UK, Ireland, the EU’s Schengen free travel zone, Iran, Brazil, or China within the previous 14 days.
The ban had a chilling effect on transatlantic travel – as it was designed to do – prompting pleas from airlines and other travel firms for the rules to be eased as the threat from Covid recedes.
A high-profile victims of the ban has been the faily of British tennis ace Emma Radacanu.
Her family was unable to travel to New York this month to watch her spectacular victory in the final of the US Open.
It has also deprived the beleaguered aviation sector of one of its most important and lucrative markets.
Trump attempted to lift the flight ban in January as he left office, but incoming president Joe Biden reversed the decision and kept them in place to prevent a new wave of Covid overwhelming the US at the same time as he stepped up its vaccination programme.
Britain dropped restrictions on fully vaccinated US visitors in July as a ‘goodwill gesture’ and he and Biden set up a dedicated working group in June to take the issue forward, following talks at the G7 summit in Cornwall.
Mr Johnson has been arguing that the effectiveness of the UK’s vaccination programme means there is no justification for maintaining restrictions on fully jabbed travellers.
Freeing travel for Brits will provide a welcome tonic for travel and tourism, allowing business trips and holidays in popular destinations like Florida and California.
Mr Johnson tweeted: ‘I am delighted that from November, @POTUS is reinstating transatlantic travel so fully vaccinated UK nationals can visit the USA.
‘It’s a fantastic boost for business and trade, and great that family and friends on both sides of the pond can be reunited once again.’
Speaking at a press conference in New York as he attended the UN General Assembly, Mr Johnson said the easing of US restrictions happened ‘faster than we expected’.
He said families will be able to be reunited ‘by Thanksgiving’ on November 25 which he described as a ‘great thing’.
He said: ‘I thank everybody in the US-UK joint working group who have been hard at it.
‘And I thank the president for the progress that we’ve been able to make.
‘Yes we have done it faster than we expected but that’s thanks to the hard work of our teams.’
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also welcomed the move, tweeting: ‘Brilliant collaboration through our UK/US working group has led to Transatlantic flights resuming from Nov for double jabbed! Great outcome.’
The easing of US travel restrictions came as massive relief to the UK aviation industry.
Heathrow Airport boss John Holland-Kaye said: ‘Connectivity between the US and the UK is part of the bedrock of the global economy.
‘The Prime Minister has secured a massive win for global Britain in getting these links restarted.’
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, said: ‘This is a major breakthrough which coupled with the removal of travel restrictions announced last week represents a substantial reopening of UK aviation.
‘The US is one of our most important markets and the air corridor is worth billions of pounds a year in trade and tourism – safeguarding thousands of jobs.
‘Things are moving in the right direction and ministers deserve credit for getting us to this point.
‘We look forward to seeing the full details so airlines can support seamless implementation in November.
‘Obviously, there is more to be done – including the relaxation in due course of restrictions for unvaccinated passengers – but for now there is light at the end of the tunnel following 18 months of unprecedented uncertainty.’
Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, said: ‘The US government’s announcement that fully vaccinated UK visitors will be able to enter the US from November is a major milestone to the reopening of travel at scale, allowing consumers and businesses to book travel to the US with confidence.’
British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle said the decision represented an ‘historic moment and one which will provide a huge boost to global Britain as it emerges from this pandemic’.
‘We are immensely grateful to the Prime Minister and his Government for all the hard work that’s gone into securing this deal with the US, and which builds upon last Friday’s announcement on the lifting of many travel restrictions,’ he said.
‘Our customers should now feel that the world is re-opening to them and they can book their trips with confidence.’
Approximately 3.8million British nationals visited the US every year prior to the pandemic, according to official Government figures.
Some US embassies have experienced difficulties during the pandemic in processing visa applications and the easing of rules is likely to spark fears of a backlog.
The timing of the change in policy by the US was unexpected, as Mr Johnson and new Foreign Secretary Liz Truss were due to press Mr Biden on the issue during a visit to the White House tomorrow.
Mr Johnson and Mr Biden set up a dedicated working group in June this year to take the issue forward, following talks at the G7 summit in Cornwall.
But although UK officials insisted it was still meeting weekly, progress appeared to have stalled.
At present, travellers from the UK cannot visit the US without special permission from the United States government.
The ban meant that tennis star Emma Radacanu’s family were unable to travel to New York this month to watch her spectacular victory in the final of the US Open.
It has also deprived the beleaguered aviation sector of one of its most important and lucrative markets.
Mr Johnson had been arguing that the effectiveness of the UK’s vaccination programme meant there was no justification for maintaining restrictions on double- jabbed travellers.
The move to reopen the US/UK air corridor came after ministers last week announced a major shake-up of the Government’s international travel rules.
The traffic light system is to be replaced from October 4 by a single ‘red list’ of destinations, and those who are fully double-jabbed won’t need a pre-departure test before returning from non-red list destinations.
Ministers today announced they are replacing the current international travel traffic light scheme with a simplified ‘go and no-go’ system as they also scrapped pre-departure tests for fully-vaccinated travellers returning to England
What are the new travel rules from October 4 and how do they compare to the current traffic light system?
As of October 4, the Government’s travel traffic light system is being replaced with a simplified two-tier ‘go/no-go’ scheme.
There will be a ‘red list’ of banned countries and a ‘rest of the world’ list for everywhere else.
Travel from the ‘rest of the world’ if you are fully vaccinated
Travellers must book and pay for a day two coronavirus test to be taken after arriving back in England.
They do not need to take a pre-departure test before coming back to the country or take a day eight test. There is no quarantine requirement – assuming the day two test is negative.
Travel from the ‘rest of the world’ if you are not fully vaccinated
Travellers must take a pre-departure coronavirus test before coming back to England.
They must also book and pay for a day two and day eight test.
After arriving in England they must quarantine at home for 10 days.
Travel from red list countries
Normal travel from these countries remains banned and only UK nationals can return from them.
Travellers must take a pre-departure test. They must also book and pay for a Government-backed quarantine hotel package.
The stay in hotel quarantine will cost more than £2,000 and will involve two tests.
The ‘red list’ rules apply regardless of vaccination status.
WHAT IS CURRENTLY IN PLACE?
RED: Travel to the UK from a red list country is banned for non-UK nationals. Britons returning to the UK must take a pre-departure test and book a ten-day stay in hotel quarantine including tests at a cost of £1,750. Countries include Brazil, Turkey, Bangladesh and South Africa.
AMBER: A pre-departure test is required before heading to Britain while non-vaccinated people have to quarantine for ten days at home and book tests on day two and day 8. They can also pay for a day 5 test under the ‘test to release’ scheme. The fully-vaccinated do not have to isolate but they do have to book a day 2 test. Countries include Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece.
GREEN WATCHLIST: This is a category for countries which are at risk of losing their green status (see below). Countries include Barbados, Croatia and Israel.
GREEN: Returning travellers must take a pre-departure test and book a day two test as well. Quarantine is not required for anyone unless the test is positive. Countries include Bulgaria, Canada , Iceland and Malta.
From the end of October, they will also be able to replace the day two PCR test with a cheaper lateral flow test.
Some of the Government’s scientific advisers have raised concerns about the travel testing regime.
Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours, which feeds into the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said the system around PCR tests has been ‘dysfunctional’ with ‘all the different companies charging absurd rates and not providing a service’.
He said the Government has responded to this ‘not by improving the system but by abandoning it entirely’, and added that, domestically, there remains ‘huge uncertainty’ about the effect on virus cases of the return of schools, universities, workplaces and people spending more time indoors in the autumn weather.
On travel, he told Sky News: ‘I think it would have been far preferable to keep PCR tests but to improve the system and to do them through the NHS.
‘I think it (the relaxation) is increasing risk. I think it does limit, in fact it stops our ability to trace different variants, and increases the probability of infected people coming into the country.
‘I think it has increased the risk, quite frankly, and I think we should have improved the system rather than by and large abandoning it.’
Lawrence Young, professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, said: ‘Letting our guard down runs the risk of bringing a new variant into the country, such as the Mu variant first identified in Colombia, which could reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines.’
Another scientist said while easing the rules will ‘inevitably increase the risk’ of infections, high rates in the UK mean travellers could be as likely to catch Covid on a trip to Torquay as one to Turkey.
Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said: ‘Given the fact that community transmission within the UK is still running at a high level, it seems churlish to put high barriers in the way of international travel when the risks of catching Covid at home are relatively high.’
Under the changed travel system for England, unvaccinated passengers from non-red list countries will have to take a pre-departure test, and a PCR test on days two and eight after returning.
However, travellers who have a valid vaccination certificate from 17 additional countries and territories, including Japan and Singapore, will be treated as if they had been jabbed in the UK.
Eight countries, including Turkey, Pakistan and the Maldives, are being removed from the red list with effect from 4am on Wednesday.
Travellers from Egypt, Sri Lanka, Oman, Bangladesh and Kenya will also no longer be required to hotel quarantine from that date.
The shake-up will apply to England only, with Scotland saying it will drop the traffic light system but will not follow England when it comes to testing requirements and PCR tests will still be required.
The Welsh Government said it will consider the UK Government’s proposed changes, but health minister Eluned Morgan has warned they could ‘weaken the line of defence on importing infection’.
In Northern Ireland, the traffic light system will change from October 4, with a single ‘red list’ of destinations, while proposed changes to pre-departure and post-arrival testing will be discussed by Stormont ministers next week.
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