An announcement by the United Kingdom on Wednesday that it will end quarantine requirements for vaccinated travelers from the United States came despite warnings from Washington against travel to the UK, and also a ban on arrivals in the US from the UK. The decision was evidently made in the hope of a reciprocal gesture from Washington.
Despite comments by British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggesting the hope for reciprocity, there has yet to be any response. The UK's gesture poses a question for US President Joe Biden's administration: Does it hold firm and risk upsetting a key ally, or change policy and cause ripples at home?
Although there was a slight rise in COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, before that, the UK saw case numbers fall for seven days in a row.
The Daily Telegraph reported that the encouraging trend had led to increased efforts by British diplomats in Washington to get the rules changed. Currently, the UK is on the US' highest risk-level list, and arrivals from the country are not permitted, along with those from much of Europe, China, South Africa, India and Brazil.
News of the UK opening up to US travelers from this coming week has had an instant impact on the travel industry, as Virgin Atlantic's chief commercial officer Juha Jarvinen told Sky News on Thursday. "Flight bookings are up by more than 100 percent week-on-week," he said.
According to the Telegraph, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has discussed the issue with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Shapps spoke to US Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg before Wednesday's announcement, but despite his optimism that the gesture may be reciprocated, he conceded "we can only set the rules at our end".
It is understood that Biden may not change the rules until September. So for now, it looks like transatlantic travel in summer 2021 may consist only of one-way tickets.