According to people familiar with the matter, US officials aim to open travel between New York City and London with reduced traveler quarantine periods as soon as the holidays.
The growing availability of Covid-19 tests in the United States has prompted officials from the Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to re-launch efforts to establish safe travel corridors between the United States and international destinations, they said. people. Establishing such routes would require travelers to be tested for Covid-19 before flight and again upon arrival, allowing them to avoid lengthy quarantines at their destinations.
The Trump administration and foreign governments must both accept the plan, according to a US official familiar with the efforts. A homeland security official said the agency̵
Federal officials recently focused their talks on a first corridor with their British counterparts, and discussions have also involved German officials, people familiar with the matter said.
Limited availability of tests in the United States earlier this year and long wait times for test results have stalled previous efforts to open international travel.
Currently, US citizens traveling to the UK must be quarantined for 14 days and for the most part cannot travel to the EU. The US prohibits entry to travelers from the UK and Europe unless they are US citizens or permanent residents.
After stopping in the first weeks of the pandemic, air travel remained slow due to travelers’ fears of contracting the coronavirus and closed borders or mandatory quarantine periods for arriving travelers. International travel has been particularly hard hit, and the shortage of flyers has knocked out some global airlines and wiped out billions of dollars in profits.
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U.S. government and aviation industry officials involved in planning talks cited a major obstacle in negotiations with foreign leaders on easing travel restrictions, including with testing: Covid-19 infection rates steadily high in the United States. The United States and the United Kingdom both experienced recent increases in infections, and the United States had more than 56,000 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The White House National Security Council has approved the corridors plan to move forward in recent weeks, people familiar with the matter said. A security council spokesman declined to comment.
A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said the agency is ready to support the effort and noted that officials’ talks with international and industrial counterparts continue. The easing of quarantine requirements has been debated in the UK and Transport Minister Grant Shapps said this week that a task force there will investigate the potential role of airport testing.
The revival of popular vacation and business routes has been a priority for airlines and governments whose economies depend on travel. Some carriers have already partnered with governments in states like Hawaii and destinations like Costa Rica and Jamaica to test plans that reduce travelers’ mandatory quarantine periods.
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Like many virus-related travel measures, these early efforts are a mosaic, with different test options depending on the airline, from quick tests at the airport to test kits at home. Travelers pay for tests, most of which cost $ 100 or more.
According to these guidelines, tests are not mandatory for every flyer as they would be in the plans federal officials are considering.
“We want to simplify the matter,” said Julie Rath, vice president of customer experience and reservations at
American Airlines Group Inc.
Many airline executives say a proven and widely available vaccine will be needed to put travelers at ease and return to 2019 levels. Airlines currently require passengers to wear masks and have stepped up cabin cleaning.
Eventually, “proof of a vaccination will replace proof of a negative test result” as a travel must, said Aaron McMillan,
general manager of policies and operations support.
Attempts by nations and carriers to reopen world travel have been erratic. In addition to US and EU travel bans, some countries, such as Argentina, have remained largely closed. Others are open, but subject travelers to a number of rules and restrictions regarding the length of quarantines and the types of tests travelers must take.
Those restrictions, coupled with fears of infection on longer flights, have left international travel even more depressed than domestic flights, according to the International Air Transport Association, a commercial group. Global international air traffic dropped 88% in August from the previous year, according to IATA.
Airline executives on both sides of the Atlantic have insisted since July that governments use testing in place of quarantines and other international restrictions. Airports in North America, Europe and Asia are also working to develop a common test framework.
For now, the testing bottlenecks have eased and the US has more testing capabilities than it is using. The seven-day average of new daily tests conducted in the United States is about 961,000 or just under 30 million tests per month, while the Department of Health and Human Services said about 90 million tests were available in September.
Rapid tests are expected to be a primary tool for keeping corridors free of Covid, people briefed on the matter said. Rapid tests typically trade some accuracy with speed, so it was not immediately clear whether other tests, such as polymerase chain reaction tests performed in the lab, and shorter periods of self-isolation might be needed.
—Sarah Krouse contributed to this article.
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