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US to lift travel ban for fully vaccinated Britons on November 8

·4 min read
Travellers walk through John F. Kennedy International Airport - Angus Mordant/Bloomberg
Travellers walk through John F. Kennedy International Airport - Angus Mordant/Bloomberg

The US is to reopen transatlantic flights with Britain on Nov 8 as Joe Biden lifts the 18-month ban on UK travellers.

The move, first revealed by The Telegraph, was confirmed by Kevin Munoz, the White House press aide, who said the new policy would open air and land borders to international travel after they were closed by Donald Trump at the start of the Covid pandemic.

Mr Biden's administration announced last month that passengers who were fully vaccinated against Covid would be able to fly to the US from anywhere in the world from November.

But in the past few weeks there were hints from officials that the continuing scale of the pandemic in parts of America could see that delayed until Thanksgiving at the end of next month.

Last week, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said he remained optimistic that transatlantic travel could restart in early November and had been reassured as such by the US administration.

Grant Shapps - Ian Forsyth/Getty Images Europe
Grant Shapps - Ian Forsyth/Getty Images Europe

His confidence has been vindicated by Friday's announcement. Travellers will have to show proof of having been fully vaccinated and a negative test taken in the previous three days, starting in early November. They will have to wear a mask for their journey and share their telephone number and email address for contact tracing.

Since last year, people without US citizenship, green cards or specific exemptions have been banned from travelling to the US if they have been in the UK, Ireland, the Schengen area, China, India, Iran, South Africa or Brazil in the previous 14 days.

Boris Johnson and Mr Biden agreed to set up a joint taskforce to restart travel when they met at the G7 summit in Cornwall in June, although the Prime Minister told colleagues the US president appeared "very reluctant" to reboot flights.

In a bid to reinvigorate travel, the UK has since announced that fully jabbed Americans can come to the UK without having to quarantine, but the US has yet to reciprocate.

Tim Alderslade, the chief executive of Airlines UK, said Friday's announcement was "fantastic news", adding: "The huge importance of the US as a UK travel destination simply cannot be overstated, with millions of Brits pre-pandemic travelling for holidays, for business trips worth billions to our economy and to reunite with friends and family.

"Without the US being open, there simply could never be a proper recovery for UK aviation. Alongside bringing in cheaper tests for half-term and the cut in the red list, this news caps perhaps the most positive week for UK airlines since the pandemic began."

The London-New York route accounted for nearly 1,900 flights a month in 2019 and more than 114 million seats, according to aviation research firm Cirium data. The lockdowns saw it collapse to just five per cent of that.

Sean Doyle, the British Airways chief executive, said: "Nearly 600 days since the introduction of the US travel ban, this is a pivotal moment for the entire travel industry and finally provides the certainty we have so desperately needed.

"We can't wait to welcome our customers back on board and reconnect friends and families across the Atlantic, rebuild US-UK business relationships and reclaim Britain's position as a leader on the global stage."

Shai Weiss, his counterpart at Virgin Atlantic, said: "The UK will now be able to strengthen ties with our most important economic partner, the US, boosting trade and tourism as well as reuniting friends, families and business colleagues."

The change affects 33 countries whose nationals are currently banned from travelling to the US, including China, India, Brazil and much of Europe.

Questions remain about how vaccine checks will work, including whether the US will implement a passport programme or recognise vaccines that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Millions of Britons have taken the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not recognised by the US.

It follows an announcement on Thursday by Mr Biden that US land borders are to be opened to travellers from Canada and Mexico, who will need to show proof of vaccination but will not need to show a Covid test.