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There was no scientific rationale for keeping the U.S. border closed for so long

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On a Bloomberg Television broadcast in July, U.S.-based British journalist Jonathan Ferro confronted Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about the international travel restrictions imposed by the U.S. government due to the pandemic. He pointedly relayed to Buttigieg that he had watched his own father’s funeral, held in the U.K., “down the screen of an iPhone . . . because of your policies.”

Ferro was referring to the travel ban that has restricted citizens of the U.K., as well as many other countries, from entering the U.S., purportedly to curb the spread of the coronavirus. (Ferro could, in fact, travel to Britain, but then would be barred from returning to his life in the U.S.) To stop cross-border spreading of COVID-19, countries around the world closed their borders to citizen of other countries. The U.S. barred entry to people from almost the entirety of Europe, China, India, Iran, South Africa, and Brazil.

But on September 20, the White House announced that finally, in “early November,” the ban will be lifted for foreign travelers, as long as they are vaccinated. The policy change comes as overdue relief for people who will have been separated from loved ones for 20 months. I can relate: Also a British worker in the U.S., I’ve been unable to travel home—or have family travel here—a tough charge as an only child with aging parents, and one I didn’t consider when I last departed Heathrow after Christmas 2019, unconscious of the impending pandemic and its doom for “aliens” such as myself.

Now with consolation also come questions about why the move took so long—especially when the banned countries opened to the U.S. much earlier, and when the policy already had so many loopholes as to be almost comical as an infection-mitigation protocol: Vaccinated U.S. citizens have been able to move freely in and out of the country, while others, including vaccinated U.S. workers and taxpayers like Ferro and me, have not.

What’s more: Infectious disease experts say the restrictions have been scientifically futile, saying they’ve been more about beneficial optics for the government than good public health policy. They suggest it’s likely been a case of reluctance to shift strategy for fear of political backlash—and for the complexity of developing an alternative entry system—that allowed the consequential restrictions to endure.

On March 12, 2020 (the same ominous night at the dawn of the pandemic in the U.S. on which Tom Hanks announced he’d tested positive for the coronavirus, and the NBA season was suspended indefinitely), then-President Donald Trump made a presidential proclamation, banning travel into the U.S. from the 26 European countries known as the Schengen Zone; two days later, he extended that to the U.K. and Ireland. (These restrictions would exempt U.S. citizens and family members, green card holders, diplomats, and some others.) Before leaving office, he lifted the ban, but President Joe Biden immediately reinstated it. It’s remained in place ever since, resulting in what will have been, by the time it ends in November, a 20-month ban.

The edict’s reasoning was clear from its title: Biden’s version is called the “Proclamation on the Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and........

© Fast Company

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