Travel industry urges White House for plan to lift international Covid-19 travel restrictions

COVID-19 vaccination record card issued by the Centers for Disease Control

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U.S. airlines and more than two dozen other industry groups on Monday urged the Biden administration to form a plan by May to lift international travel restrictions, including digital vaccine passport standards, after cross-border travel was devastated in the Covid pandemic.

Airlines for America, which represents major U.S. airlines like American, United, Southwest and others, sent a letter to Jeffrey Zients, the White House’s Covid-19 response team coordinator, saying the guidelines should exempt vaccinated people from international testing rules.

Among other recommendations, the groups asked that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention update its guidance to say that vaccinated people can safely travel, according to a copy of the letter viewed by CNBC.

“To be clear, at this time, we do not support removal or easing of core public health protections, such as the universal mask mandate, inbound international testing requirement, physical distancing or other measures that have made travel safer and reduced transmission of the virus,” said the letter, which was also signed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest flight attendant union and other industry groups. “However, the data and science demonstrate that the right public health measures are now in place to effectively mitigate risk and allow for the safe removal of entry restrictions.”

Most non-U.S. citizens who have recently been in Europe, the U.K. and Brazil have been banned from entering the U.S. since last March, when then-President Donald Trump instituted the rules as Covid-19 was spreading around the world. In January, President Joe Biden extended the entry restrictions and added South Africa to the list because of a rise in infections and new, more contagious variants

The group also called on the White House to set standards for digital health documents that can show immigration officials proof of vaccinations or test results.

In the meantime, airlines and officials have been looking at ways to use digital vaccine or health passports to help spur travel and eventually replace travel restrictions. The European Union last week proposed a digital health certificate with a QR code that contains vaccine and Covid-19 test results.

Delta Air Lines’ CEO Ed Bastian last week told “NBC Nightly News” that he expects digital vaccine passports will be required for international travel.

The White House declined to comment and pointed to a recommendation against travel that CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky gave Monday.

“Now is not the time to travel,” she said at a news conference.

“We are worried not just for what happens when you are on theĀ airplaneĀ itself, but what happens when people travel, that is they go out, they mix, they mix with people who are not vaccinated,” she said.