Follow the science? For travel policy, it's not happening

Zane Kerby is president and CEO of ASTA.

Last fall, fearing a Covid-19 “spike,” the CDC warned against travel over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

At the time, the U.S. vaccination rate was near zero. After months of lockdowns, quarantines and isolation, Americans largely shrugged off that advice and many traveled — with masks — over both holidays.

Last week, two nonsensical public policy pronouncements made headlines. First, the European Union (EU) recommended that its member countries reinstate restrictions on visitors from the U.S. And second, medical “experts” once again warned against Americans cruising. Painting the population of entire countries and modes of travel as “dangerous” is unfair, irresponsible and undermines public trust. 

Out of a shared responsibility for public health, and in order to return to a “normal” life of treasured freedoms (especially the freedom to travel), over 175 million Americans are now fully vaccinated. Widely confirmed data proves that the vaccinated are less likely to transmit the virus or become seriously ill. Why then would the EU paint the entire U.S. population with the broad “unwelcome”? 

It certainly doesn’t help that the Biden administration has kept in place longstanding restrictions on EU residents visiting this country, even though the bloc has recently surpassed our vaccination rates. Discouraging all nonessential travel to and from the United States ignores the science underpinning vaccination, postpones needed business and personal connections and slows economic growth. As the Economist recently opined, most Covid-related travel restrictions are “ineffective, illiberal and often useless.”

Our strong cultural and business ties with Europe deserve a more thoughtful and carefully crafted public policy, one that at the very least distinguishes based on vaccination status. Perhaps that’s why earlier this week former British prime minister Tony Blair called for adoption of a universally accepted global vaccine verification system.

Cruising from U.S. ports just resumed after more than a year of being shuttered by CDC edict. In those fifteen months, coronavirus cases in the United States reached 200,000 per day and, more tragically, resulted in several thousand fatalities.

Today, experts frantically warn of cruise ship “Covid outbreaks.” Their evidence? On a recent cruise, 27 out of 4,336 passengers tested positive. By any reasonable measure, a 0.6% infection rate hardly constitutes an “outbreak,” and certainly not one that warrants another shutdown of an entire industry. 

Further, most cruise lines have mandated vaccination as a condition to sail, are sailing well below capacity, are providing preboarding Covid testing, and have competent medical staff and numerous safety protocols in place. Can you name another activity where you come into contact with strangers in which 96% have proven that they’re vaccinated? Neither can I. 

  • Related: From the Window Seat: The case for 100% vaccinated cruises

It must be stressed that the U.S. has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates. Its citizens have squirreled away trillions during the pandemic, waiting for the chance to go and see the world again once it was safe. 

Following “the science” — meaning first masking indoors and then getting vaccinated — was supposed to assuage elected and public health officials’ Covid concerns. Unfortunately, this week’s headlines prove that it hasn’t, even though engaging in travel and scores of other activities is undeniably far safer than it was before we were blessed with effective vaccines. 

If public policy and health experts refuse to acknowledge even that much and are willing to destroy an entire sector of the U.S. economy in the process, perhaps their pronouncements do not merit the unquestioned acceptance given to them up to now. If so, it should not be surprising if increasing numbers of Americans choose not to give them much credence in deciding when and how to travel again. 

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