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Restrictions on International Travel to Remain In Place

July 27, 2021 by Dan McCue
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. is keeping existing COVID-19 restrictions on international travel in place due to concerns about the surging delta variant of the virus among the unvaccinated.

“Given where we are today [with] the more transmissible Delta variant … spreading both here and around the world … we will maintain existing travel restrictions,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday during a briefing with reporters.

“Driven by the Delta variant, cases are rising here at home, particularly among those who are unvaccinated, and appear likely to continue in the weeks ahead,” she said in further explaining the decision.

In addition, Psaki said, the Centers for Disease Control as recently as a week ago Monday, advised Americans against travel to the United Kingdom due to a recent surge in cases.

She went on to say that when it comes to COVID, the administration’s actions “are always going to be guided by our North Star — the CDC and our health and medical experts” and that she expects them to continue to evaluate the situation and make recommendations “based on the health data.”

Monday’s announcement appeared to be something of a reversal from a statement President Joe Biden made earlier this month when he said the administration was in the process of considering how soon it could lift the ban on European travel bound for the U.S.

The travel ban was one of the issues raised by German Chancellor Angela Merkel during her visit to the White House last month.

But Psaki insisted the administration’s response to the pandemic has to remain flexible based on the latest available information.

“It would actually be surprising — and odd — if our health and medical experts were not [constantly] engaged in active discussions about how best to protect the American people,” she said. 

“And there is, of course, an active discussion about a range of steps that can be taken, as there has been from the first day of this administration,” Psaki continued.

“Certainly, the surge in cases among the unvaccinated, because of the Delta variant, prompts even more discussion about what actions can be taken. But again, we are going to follow our North Star.

“The CDC looks at data from across the country and they make an assessment … and we will, of course, follow their guidance,” she said.

The rising cases also are causing the administration to take a closer look at policies on wearing masks. 

On Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs became the first first major federal agency to require its health care workers to get COVID-19 vaccines. 

Over the weekend, U.S. health officials acknowledged they’re considering changing the federal government’s recommendations on wearing masks. 

The delta variant is a mutated coronavirus that spreads more easily than other versions. It was first detected in India but now has been identified around the world. Last week, U.S. health officials said the variant accounts for an estimated 83% of U.S. COVID-19 cases, and noted a 32% increase in COVID hospitalizations from the previous week.

As of Sunday, 69% of American adults had received one vaccination shot, according to the CDC — still slightly below the 70% goal Biden had set for July 4. Sixty percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated.

When asked Monday during a Rose Garden event if he had confidence he could get unvaccinated Americans to get the shot, Biden said, “we have to,” but ignored a follow-up question on how. 

Psaki acknowledged that the administration runs the risk of undermining its vaccination goals by further politicizing an already fraught issue if the president becomes the face of vaccine mandates.

“The president certainly recognizes that he is not always the right voice to every community about the benefits of getting vaccinated, which is why we have invested as much as we have in local voices and empowering local trusted voices,” she said.

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