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US warns against travel to UK despite dwindling cases

written by Hannah Dowling | April 23, 2021
Aerial photo of Terminal 3 at London Heathrow airport (LHR) in the United Kingdom.

The US has added the UK to its “Level Four: Do Not Travel” advisory lift, among 150 other countries, just weeks before the UK is expected to allow Britons to travel across the pond.

The US State Department announced this week that the UK, along with 150 other countries making up nearly 80 per cent of the globe, had been added to the nation’s Do Not Travel advisory notice.

According to the department, Level Four countries pose a “very high” risk of COVID-19 infection, and American travellers are advised against travelling to these countries.

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Prior to this announcement, only 34 countries were on the country’s list.

The UK joins a number of countries with close business and trade relationships with the US on the list, including Canada, Mexico, France and Germany.

Notably, the Level Four rating is merely an advice notice to US travellers and does not actually ban them from travelling to these countries.

The addition of the UK to the Level Four advisory list is largely surprising, following recent industry lobbying for there to be a suitable travel corridor between the two major countries, particularly as both countries have moved swiftly through their vaccination distribution campaigns.

In fact, the UK’s rolling seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases is now under 2,500, down from its peak in mid-January of 60,000.

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Comparatively, the US reports a seven-day rolling average of 62,000 cases, down from its mid-January peak of 255,000.

The US has unfortunately seen a slight rebound in infection numbers in recent weeks, suspected to be the result of easing social distancing requirements and ‘stay at home’ orders in the weeks before the vaccine had begun being distributed.

The announcement comes just weeks before the UK is to make its own judgement on transatlantic travel

The UK government is expected to announce the countries that have officially made its “green list” for restriction-free travel to and from the UK on 10 May, ahead of partially easing its restrictions on travel from 17 May.

The UK industry, including British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Heathrow Airport, has lobbied for the US to make the first iteration of the “green list” despite its recent spike in cases, due to the lucrative nature of transatlantic flight operations.

Before the COVID pandemic, the transatlantic travel market was worth $9 billion per year to airlines.

Around 22 million people would travel between the US and UK per year, accounting for nearly 10 per cent of all global air travel.

Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland Kaye said, “The UK can’t sit back and see its vital trading routes sitting idle”.

Doing so would see a “genuine risk” that some UK businesses reliant on trade or tourists won’t survive, as the pandemic enters into its second summer season.

However, the industry was largely hoping for a bilateral agreement for restriction-free travel across the Atlantic Ocean.

“If we can create a framework for travel between the UK and US, and open up that market, that would set a benchmark that others could follow,” said British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle.

Meanwhile, Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic said, “There is a great opportunity here to focus on the corridor between the US and the UK … the US has a hugely successful vaccination program.”

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