The United States is expecting one of the busiest travel weekends since the pandemic began, as thousands of Americans take to the skies for Memorial weekend. The annual bank-holiday weekend – which traditionally marks the start of the summer – is the first major holiday to take place since a majority of adults have been vaccinated in the US.
Airlines have added more seats and routes to meet pent-up demand. While domestic flights within the US do not require vaccinations or proof of a negative Covid-19 test, masks are required and more Americans are travelling as vaccination rates have risen.
More than 50 per cent of Americans have been fully vaccinated, while about 62 per cent have had their first dose.
Nonetheless, several states are offering incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated, amid a slowdown in vaccination rates. California is giving newly-vaccinated residents the opportunity to win cash lottery prizes of up to $1.5 million (€1.2 million), mirroring similar schemes in states such as Ohio and Maryland.
Speaking ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention, said vaccinated Americans were safe to enjoy the weekend. "If you are vaccinated, you're protected and you can enjoy your Memorial Day," she said, adding that unvaccinated people remained at risk of infection.
Speaking during a visit to a Covid-19 vaccination site in Virginia on Friday, President Joe Biden highlighted the progress that had been made in the vaccination process.
“Four months after I took office, we’re further along in this fight than anyone thought possible,” he said. “We’re not just saving lives. We’re getting our lives back.” But he urged those who had not yet been vaccinated to do so. “Let me be clear. We’re not done yet. We have to reach those who are not vaccinated and make it as easy as possible for them to get protected.”
While domestic travel has bounced back in the US as restaurants and bars return to full capacity, the country still has significant restrictions on inbound travel.
Mr Biden reinstated in January a travel ban on passengers from Europe, China and a handful of other countries that was introduced by Donald Trump. While US passport and green-card holders as well as some categories of visa-holders are allowed to enter the US, the vast majority of travellers are still prohibited from visiting.
This is despite the fact that the European Commission has recently lifted its ban on US tourists visiting Europe, subject to individual member state approval. Earlier this week White House press secretary Jen Psaki said no decision had been made on changing the restrictions. "Any decision to change or lift them will be based on the guidance of our public-health experts," she said.