U.S. travel industry urges White House to lift COVID restrictions, mask mandate

Travelers are seen under a PSA advising mask wearing in a concourse during the holiday season as the coronavirus Omicron variant threatens to increase case numbers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. December 22, 2021. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

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WASHINGTON, March 22 (Reuters) – The U.S. Travel Association on Tuesday urged the White House to lift COVID-19 travel restrictions and repeal a mandate requiring masks on airplanes and in other transit modes by April 18, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

In a letter to Dr. Ashish Jha, the incoming White House COVID response coordinator, the group called for an immediate end to the pre-departure testing requirement for all fully vaccinated inbound international persons and ending the mask mandate by April 18 “or announcing a plan and timeline to repeal the federal mask mandate within the subsequent 90 days.”

The White House did not immediately comment.

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“It makes little sense to keep the pre-departure testing requirement in place for inbound air travelers when the U.S. government does not require negative tests at U.S-Canada and U.S.-Mexico land border points of entry,” wrote U.S. Travel Chief Executive Roger Dow.

The travel industry also wants the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to end “avoid travel” advisories for all vaccinated individuals and urged the Biden administration to avoid the future “use of travel bans from specific countries.”

In total, the CDC urges Americans to avoid travel to about 120 countries and territories.

It also calls by June 1 to “develop benchmarks and timelines for a pathway to the new normal that repeals pandemic-focused travel restrictions” including ending all remaining restrictions, including international vaccine and testing mandates.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration extended requirements for travelers to wear masks on airplanes, trains and in transit hubs through April 18 as public health authorities review when mask requirements should be dropped.

The mask requirements have resulted in significant friction on U.S. airplanes.

The CDC said last week that 99.5% of the U.S. population is in a location where COVID levels are low enough that people do not need to wear masks.

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Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chris Reese and Mark Porter

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