a blue passport with gold text on it

Many “in the know” expect that the United States will drop bans impacting most European and UK visitors sometime around June 14th, when President Biden heads to Europe for his first overseas trip.

Even if that happens, it still doesn’t really cover an underlying issue, which is that policy on travel for vaccinated and unvaccinated people all over the globe doesn’t match the science based risks we know of, for better and worse. And really, for the vaccinated, the lack of risk.

From the UK’s expensive testing requirements even for vaccinated travelers coming from “green list” countries, to blanket bans still in place from the United States and others, it’s time for travel policies to match up with science.

Policy, Politics And Science

I make no statements of expertise in the medical field, epidemiology or vaccination. I do, however, defer to those who are the most noted experts in these fields and their elaborate studies on important areas of concern, which are shaping the scientific data based narratives.

I do know how people respond to things though, and if $1 million lotteries for anyone who gets vaccinated are any indication, you can make vaccination numbers soar, if you start adding more lifestyle benefits for being vaccinated, particularly in travel. Even United Airlines just tapped into this.

For my primary opinion, which is that policy must match science and create travel benefits for being vaccinated, I defer to the heavily scrutinized studies which examined important things like risk of “breakthrough” infection in vaccinated people, passing onto others and all the “but, but’s” people continue to offer.

a blue passport with gold text on it

I look to Israel, the USA, UK and countries which have proven the efficacy of vaccines.

I’m all for caution and I’m all for compassion, like wearing a mask on a plane for the time being, in case an immunocompromised person is next to you, but there are some bits which are simply head scratchers.

A big note, when the US CDC announced vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks in most situations, indoors or outdoors, was that if you’re fully vaccinated, you should have faith in the vaccines and not worry as much about choices of others.

In other words, a coffee shop with an “honor” system for mask wearing based on full vaccination shouldn’t create paranoia, because vaccinated people are highly protected.

“anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities — large or small — without wearing a mask or physical distancing.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director, US CDC

Despite the comments, there’s been no added “benefit” in travel for those who have been fully vaccinated, at least for most.

Even fully vaccinated Americans must take covid-19 tests before returning to the USA, adding cost and effort, even from “safe” destinations. Fully vaccinated Brits traveling to “green list” approved countries on the truly bizarre ‘traffic light system’ are also still required to pay exorbitant fees for PCR tests on arrival back into the UK.

a sign with flags on it

Throughout Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa, South America and the rest of the world, many countries still show no nuance for fully vaccinated travelers. Bans are bans, rules are rules.

Most bans or travel entry restrictions apply to everyone, regardless of vaccination status, and that seems like a missed opportunity.

Germany recently changed policy, requiring all UK originating travelers to quarantine, with no exemption for people who have received fully vaccination. France then quickly followed suit. I think that’s a mistake, particularly given the high levels of vaccination in the UK and the vital opportunities that vaccinated individuals can bring.

With these moves, most won’t bother.

I’m 100% for testing of unvaccinated people and perhaps even short quarantines in extreme circumstances, for unvaccinated travelers coming from high risk areas.

I don’t even mind (free) rapid testing at an airport or immigration hall as a fully vaccinated person, if it adds a layer of security, even for the purpose of theatre. It’s a small price to pay to move again, particularly if I don’t pay.

I do, however, mind that being vaccinated isn’t “unlocking” much in travel, when science says it really should. As a fully vaccinated person, hospitalizations and deaths are almost unheard of, and spreading the virus remains mathematically improbable.

I understand that being risk averse is likely the right strategy right now for most countries. If the “waves” proved anything, it’s that it’s best to get all the facts before going too far with reopening. But they’re here now.

Even with variants, vaccination shows incredible correlation with the demise of covid-19, even including the so called UK, Indian, South African and other (xenophobic) labels people have put on things which are everywhere.

So, why is there no end to the United States ban on entry from Europe or the UK, for fully vaccinated people in either area? Is it just that we’re waiting on more tangible proof of vaccination? If so, state that – so people can plan forward trips. What many in government don’t understand is that confidence to put money on the table and book takes months.

a group of palm trees with the sun shining through

Regime change, or in this instance – policy change; make confidence disappear and it takes an awfully long time to reappear.

If countries offered clearer road maps or an actual metric based approach to these moves, rather than the political gaming which seems to be the modus operandi, we could have a clearer picture of six months, a year and make bookings accordingly.

I know this acutely, because I’ve spoken to countless hoteliers who said price did not matter this year. Even with deep discounts, people just weren’t ready to book a trip with so many question marks. They said they’d rather pay full price when the knew they’d actually go.

If not anything else, set a track for vaccinated people. It will encourage people to get vaccinated, so they can participate in this faster track back to travel, and create more sustainable guidance, which is less likely to change.

Surely, this would allow for vital commerce and travel to resume, without constant worry about unvaccinated people entering the country?

If people see tangible benefits – such as fully vaccinated people entering the UK not being required to pay £60 ($85) plus for testing on trips from green list countries, that’s money back in people’s pockets for getting vaccinated, every trip.

For those eager to connect with loved ones, who might be vaccine hesitant, it could help move the needle into the arm. In fact, money usually talks louder than anything else.

To be fair, some countries are doing this. The problem is, world leaders seem to be slow, because they don’t have to be fast. It’s not that they disagree about the science, it’s just that there’s less at stake in many areas.

There’s a growing list of countries without testing requirements for the vaccinated, or which allow vaccinated travelers regardless of point of origin, or passport. It’s the new “golden ticket”, but just not in enough places and not in enough ways. Play it safe and slow with unvaccinated people, but it’s time for policy to match medical data on those who are vaccinated. That means opening borders.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. What a great article. I wish you could send this to all World leaders and make them read it. There is too much talk about unfairness to unvaccinated people. If they wait till everyone is vaccinated the tourist industry will be decimated. Let folks who are fully vaccinated and can produce a covid free test result get back to travelling. As you say, those reluctant to get the jabs won’t be long in changing their minds.

  2. Totally agree! I’m European, fully vaccinated and banned with no reason from entering US. I have a Californian fiancé and last time we see each other June 2020. Rally makes no sense. All binational couples are asking to reunite following all rules. Mad situation, considered that if you don’t won’t to spread the virus, all the Americans have travelled without being tested untile Jan. 26, 2021!!!!!

  3. Hear! Hear! I really hope the US opens up to coincide with the President’s UK visit next month. 🤞

  4. My thoughts exactly! Listing all the countries where vaccinated travelers can go is of no use to me until my own country stops requiring a PCR test for me to return, even though I am vaccinated.

  5. I fully agree. These policies worldwide are archaic and senseless.
    As it stands why get vaccinated , because there is no incentive. You have to go through the same hoops as non vac. And the traffic light system is ridiculous! I am at present in Panama and it is a red light country but is far more controlled Covid wise than the UK!!!
    All they are doing is turning away valuable tourist dollars.
    All these governments are making these conspiracy theorists as a genius !
    Perhaps if these officials had to travel on the same same restrictions as the rest of us then things would change quickly

  6. The problem is with a proof of vaccination. In US the CDC certificate seems easy to counterfeit. Experience shows countless numbers of travelers falsified negative PCR results while trying to enter HI, VI and PR. What stops them from forging CDC vaccination record?

    Second aspect of this mess stems from our idiotic inclusiveness and non-discriminate policies. So there you have it.

  7. Perfectly written. Unfortunately my family is just not motivated to travel until our vaccine status is recognized by removing additional fees and PCR tests. We can work in our garden through the season

  8. Good column. In the US, many who sanctimoniously claimed to “follow science” are now ignoring science by refusing to change the way they live even after the miraculous (and effective) vaccines that are now widely available. It’s time to trade getting the vaccine for a return to normalcy and the governments need to catch up.

  9. My last week trip to the States from London. £60 test to leave, $125 to return, £180 for two tests once back. I have been vaccinated twice some months ago. Someone has to be making a pant load of money from this nonsense.
    Help us Obi-wan.

  10. Fantastic article and much needed evolution of policies is desperately needed!

    Here in Australia we have a quite bizarre situation where the government is forecasting not opening borders to mid 2022 and possibly/probably still requiring returning citizens to fork out the A$3,000 for mandatory quarantine on return/entry (plus $2,000-$10,000 for a one way flight if you’re lucky). However 70% of Aussies support ongoing border closures (by the way 30% of us were born overseas and 50% are only 2nd generation) and 30% of us say we will never be vaccinated because of the real/perceived risks.
    It really has become a major political manipulation game here now and because the government completely bungled the procurement and now roll out of the vaccine(s) they are back to the norms of old with the narrative constantly being sanitized and controlled to minimize the failures and uninspiring leadership.
    Very heartbreakingly the fortress mentality is coming from the general population as well as the government, here anyway..
    We can only hope international pressure and consistency in policy will ultimately force it (‘funnily’ the exact same forces will ultimately force the government to shift on climate change action, because they refuse to)

  11. Well said. It’s understandable that as we come out of the Wuhan Virus pandemic, not all nation states will march in lock-step, but since the vaccination became available, we need to get the world economy back up to speed.

    One positive development I read about this morning came from Ireland. They will be lifting their travel restrictions for EU visitors who have been vaccinated or HAVE RECOVERED FROM COVID-19. This is reportedly on the recommendation of the EU and is a very positive move for the millions of people who have had COVID and recovered.

    Assuming other EU countries adopt this approach and the EU opens this up for Americans, my trip to Europe this fall is going to happen afterall!

  12. If you look at history vaccines have not saved anyone from pandemics, by the time vaccines are rolled out ,herd immunity has already been established and that is the reason for dropping infection rates, if it were not so mankind would have been wiped out long ago as vaccines didn;t even exist until around 100 years ago , the black plague did not come to an end beacuse of vaccines nor because people took medicines or supplements it was her immunity, the same goes for smallpox as the vaccine did not exist until over 4 years after the pandemic started ,by then herd immunity had been reached, many on here will try to dispute this, but if you research it and are completely honest you will come to the same conclusion

  13. There are plenty of people who never want this to end.
    There are also those who seek to dictate what others can and cannot do.
    A large proportion of the population clamor for safety over freedom. They need authorities to tell them what to do. They need limits, boundaries, rules, and penalties. Life for them is confusing, exhausting, chaotic — for many a hand-to-mouth existence. They’ll take handouts without shame.
    Politics will always trump science, even fashionable science.
    COVID sells. It attracts eyes. It’s not going away.
    About travel: give it five years. Getting in is one thing: but you’ll find places still closed, mask requirements on hot days, limited service, permanently closed attractions, and just limits, poor substitutions, useless rules still in place, crowd managers yelling and threatening, and even mask police in some places.
    Five years. It is said that men panic in groups, and come out of it one by one.

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