Taoiseach Micheál Martin has welcomed the decision of the Biden administration to lift the US Covid-19 travel ban for fully vaccinated passengers in November.
The ban affects European countries, including Ireland, and it was first imposed by then president Donald Trump 18 months ago.The easing of the restrictions will be for fully vaccinated passengers who agree to Covid-19 tests and contact tracing.
On a visit to New York on Monday for the UN general assembly, Mr Martin said he was “delighted” to see that the ban is to be lifted, adding that the development would be a “fillip” for Ireland and Europe, highlighting the importance of transatlantic connectivity.
Mr Martin said it “reflects the progress we’ve all collectively made on the vaccination front”.
The decision was also welcomed by Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, who said the Government and EU partners had been seeking the move for a “considerable” time. “Ensuring ease of travel is vital for protecting our strong connections across the Atlantic, be that in business, academia, tourism or family connections.”
The American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland, which represents more than 700 US companies with operations in the State, said “full access to air connectivity” with the US was critical to Ireland’s recovery post pandemic.
“This announcement restores the important ability for key Irish and US executives to travel to and from the US. Also, given that Ireland is the ninth largest investor in the US, it is equally critical for these companies too,” it said.
The tourism sector also welcomed the move. Elaina Fitzgerald Kane, president of the Irish Hotels Federation, said on Twitter that the US’s decision would provide a “much-needed boost for airlines” and was “an important step on the road to tourism recovery”.
Passengers who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will be able to travel to the US from anywhere in the world from November, the Biden administration said.
The White House said on Monday that anyone wanting to fly to the US would 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 also have to wear a mask for the journey and to 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 Ireland, the UK, the Schengen area, China, India, Iran, South Africa or Brazil in the previous 14 days.
The US announced the new system just as foreign leaders arrived in New York for the UN meetings, and a day before President Biden was due to meet British prime minister Boris Johnson at the White House.
“This new system allows us to implement strict protocols to prevent the spread of Covid from passengers flying internationally to the United States. Requiring foreign nationals travelling to the United States be fully vaccinated is based on public health,” Jeff Zients, the head of Mr Biden’s Covid-19 task force, said on Monday. “This is based on individuals rather than a country-based approach.”
The travel bans were first put in place by Mr Trump last year as his administration tried to slow the spread of Covid-19. He removed them on his final day in the White House but they were immediately reimposed by Mr Biden.
The Biden administration had been cautious about reversing the bans, despite heavy pressure from London and Brussels, as the contagious Delta variant of coronavirus spread rapidly.
The US Centers for Disease Control is drawing up a list of which vaccines will be accepted by the US. The Food and Drug Administration has authorised vaccines made by BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
Officials said the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been used widely in the EU and UK, is also likely to be accepted. But it is not yet clear whether other vaccines, such as those used in China and Russia, will be accepted by US authorities.
Shares in IAG, the owner of British Airways and Aer Lingus, jumped more than 10 per cent on Monday afternoon to trade at 165.3p mid-afternoon in London, as investors cheered the prospect of a return to transatlantic travel. Aer Lingus welcomed the lifting of the ban.
Other airline stocks rose following the news, including low-cost carrier EasyJet, which climbed 3.4 per cent in London. Air France’s shares were trading 6.7 per cent higher in Paris, while Lufthansa gained 5.3 per cent.
Paul Charles, an adviser to several travel companies, including Finnair and Tourism Ireland, described the reopening of travel for fully vaccinated passengers between Europe and the US as “probably the best news for the travel sector yet during the pandemic”.
“It’s an early Christmas present for BA, Virgin Atlantic and Aer Lingus, who can’t fully recover until the transatlantic corridors open up,” he said.
US airlines including American, United and Delta welcomed the news, although their stocks did not respond as robustly as their UK and European counterparts. Although the reopening helps carriers on both sides of the Atlantic, Raymond James analyst Savanthi Syth said it disproportionately benefited UK and European airlines, which sell 60 per cent of their tickets in their home markets.
If restrictions are lifted quickly enough, travellers should be able to book tickets for Christmas, and possibly Easter, she said. – Additional reporting by the Financial Times Limited 2021