DHS Loosens COVID-19 International Travel Restrictions

By Jennifer Doherty
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Law360 (September 11, 2020, 6:07 PM EDT) -- The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will relax border restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus within the United States starting Monday, the agency announced ahead of the weekend.

While travel to the US from China, Iran, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Ireland and the 26 countries of Europe's Schengen Area remains restricted, the agency announced that starting Monday it would no longer funnel flights carrying authorized passengers from those areas to specific airports.

The restrictions, that were announced between February and May, largely limited travel from the 31 countries to returning U.S. citizens and permanent residents. U.S.-bound flights carrying passengers who had visited those countries within the past 14 days were required to land at one of 15 airports equipped with increased public health resources.

"Terminating this effort will allow public health resources to be more effectively reprioritized for other containment and mitigation efforts and will stimulate air travel," DHS said in its Federal Register notice.

The department previously announced that it would relax the restrictions for international athletes in May.

As of Sept. 10, the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S. has trended down since July 19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center. The country averaged just more than 30,000 new cases per day in the past week.

The data also shows the new case rate falling in Brazil in recent weeks, briefly equaling the average number of new cases in the U.S. at 41,000 per day in the week before Sept. 1, before outpacing the world's richest country as both states continued to reduce the spread.

As of Friday, Johns Hopkins reported upticks in new cases for France and Spain, two of the Schengen Area's most populous states, which are also on the center's "10 current most affected countries" list along with the U.S. and Brazil. Spain averaged almost 14,000 new cases per day while France averaged 11,000.

Despite the increase in some countries, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reported an incidence rate of 66 per 100,000 residents across the EU and the U.K. in the two weeks before Sept. 9, while the U.S. saw 166 cases for every 100,000 residents.

Iran reported averages between 2,000 and 3,000 daily cases throughout the summer, dipping briefly at the start of September before reentering that range, according to the data.

The United Kingdom also reported more cases at the start of September — barely keeping below 3,000 new cases per day — than it had during the summer, while remaining under the weekly averages it saw during its first wave in April. The Johns Hopkins data showed a slight rise in new cases in recent weeks in Ireland, where new cases have remained in the low hundreds.

Meanwhile, China reported fewer new cases than Ireland, a country with 1/137 its population, in August and September according to the Johns Hopkins data.

"Continuing activities will include an illness reporting system and a passenger education process carried out in tandem with other enhanced public health measures implemented within the passenger air transportation system in collaboration with industry," DHS said in its notice ending the travel restrictions.

DHS did not mention any change to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order barring entry to the U.S. from Canada or Mexico. An extension announced May 19 extended that order "until the CDC director determines that the danger of further introduction of COVID-19 into the United States from covered aliens has ceased to be a serious danger to the public health."

Mexico averaged just more than 5,000 new cases per day as of Sept. 10, down from a peak of more than 11,000 in May, keeping it on Johns Hopkins' 10 most affected list. Canada has surpassed 1,000 new cases twice since May, on Aug. 31 and Sept. 8. 

--Additional reporting by Suzanne Monyak and Sarah Martinson. Editing by Stephen Berg.

Correction: A previous version of this story inaccurately compared the incidence of COVID-19 in the U.S. and Spain. The error has been corrected.
Update: This story has been updated to more accurately convey the scope of the policy changes.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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