Monday, June 17, 2024

Although US quarantine details remain unclear, flights canceled as travelers wary

Some people are canceling their plans to travel to the United States due to a new U.S. quarantine rule even though it is not currently being enforced.

Several flights that were scheduled to depart Mexico City on Tuesday for cities in the United States were canceled because many of the would-be passengers canceled their reservations.

An employee of the Mexican airline Volaris told the newspaper Reforma that at least five flights were canceled, including services to Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston. The worker said that flights to the United States were oversold on Monday but some were left with as few as eight passengers on Tuesday due to cancellations.

“They don’t take off like that [with so few passengers],” he said. “A lot [of people] canceled because they thought it was mandatory to stay in confinement for seven days in the United States. But that’s not the case, that’s just a recommendation.”

The CEO of Volaris said there is uncertainty surrounding the quarantine rule, which stems from an executive order signed by United States President Joe Biden last Thursday and took effect on Tuesday. Enrique Beltranena said he interpreted the quarantine directive as a “recommendation” rather than a hard and fast rule, asserting that the presentation of a negative Covid-19 test is the only mandatory requirement for travelers to the United States. 

Biden’s executive order stated that travelers entering the United States are required to comply with Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) recommended periods of self-quarantine. The CDC recommends that people stay at home for seven days after returning from high risk international travel even if they test negative for Covid-19.

“Everyone flying to the U.S. from another country will need to test before they get on that plane, before they depart, and quarantine when they arrive in America,” Biden said, referring to his executive order. 

However, The Washington Post reported that the CDC said in an email Monday that it will not enforce its quarantine guidelines. “There is not a mandatory, federal quarantine,” the agency said. 

Biden’s executive order asked federal U.S. agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services to develop plans that “shall identify agencies’ tools and mechanisms to assist travelers in complying with such policy” within two weeks of the signing of the order. 

But as things stand no enforceable quarantine rule is in place across the United States.

CDC spokeswoman Caitlin Shockey told the Post that the current legislation doesn’t amount to “a mandatory quarantine” requirement, describing the rule as “just a recommendation.”

airport at Mazatlán
The airport at Mazatlán is one of several where Covid testing stations have been installed.

The Post reported that travel experts and officials say that quarantine enforcement will be tricky, but that following the CDC’s guidance as a requirement would be safest.”

However, airlines are enforcing the negative Covid-19 test requirement. (The U.S. accepts the results of both antigen and PCR tests.)

There were reports on Tuesday that some people were unable to check in to flights to the United States from the airports in Mexico City and Cancún, Quintana Roo, either because they didn’t have a negative Covid-19 test or the negative result they had wasn’t obtained in the previous 72 hours.

To facilitate the negative test requirement of the United States and some other countries, the Pacific Airport Group has made PCR and antigen Covid-19 testing available at its airports in Guadalajara, Tijuana, Los Cabos, Puerto Vallarta, Guanajuato, Hermosillo, Mexicali, Morelia, La Paz, Aguascalientes, Los Mochis and Manzanillo.

Many other Mexican airports, including those in Cancún, Monterrey and Mexico City, have also set up testing facilities, while many large hotel chains that cater to American visitors have announced they will offer onsite testing or help connect customers to nearby labs and hospitals,

At the Mexico City airport, a testing station has been installed in terminal 1 between doors 3 and 4. More testing stations will be set up in the airport in the coming days, the federal Communications and Transportation Ministry said.

At the terminal 1 testing station, an antigen test costs 680 pesos (US $34) and results are available in 15 minutes while a PCR test costs 2,500 pesos (US $124) and results return in 24 hours. Travelers to Canada and some European countries, among others around the world, are required to present a negative PCR test, which are considered more accurate than rapid tests.

The United States’ (as yet unenforced) quarantine rule, and the negative Covid-19 test requirement, is likely not only to cause more people to cancel plans to travel from Mexico to the U.S. but also vice versa.

Fernando Gómez Suárez, a tourism and aviation expert, said earlier this week that fewer U.S. tourists will come to Mexico if they have to go into isolation for at least seven days upon returning home. Such a situation would, of course, have a negative impact on the Mexican tourism sector, which has already been hit hard by the pandemic and associated restrictions.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, the United States’ testing and quarantine requirements will result in millions of fewer tourists coming to Mexico and cost the tourism sector at least US $1.6 billion in lost revenue.

About six in 10 international tourists who came to Mexico last year were from the United States, according to federal data, a figure that emphasizes the importance of the U.S. market. Locked out of European countries and other popular tourism destinations around the world due to the raging pandemic at home, United States tourists have flocked to the Quintana Roo resorts of Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, as well as other Mexican destinations such as Mexico City, even as Mexico faces its own extremely bad coronavirus situation.

(As of Tuesday, confirmed cases totaled almost 1.8 million and the Covid-19 death toll was just over 152,000.)

Unlike many countries, Mexico has not restricted flights from any foreign nation during the coronavirus pandemic. It hasn’t required foreign travelers or Mexicans returning home to quarantine upon arrival in the country either.

The lack of rules for international travelers and the absence of hard lockdown measures has made Mexico an attractive – and accessible – destination for people fed up with restrictions at home and eager to get away.

Now, however, it appears inevitable that the new U.S. rules will stop at least some United States citizens from fleeing south, and as an unintended byproduct cause more economic pain for a tourism sector that is heavily dependent on Americans and the dollars they bring.

Source: Reforma (sp), El Financiero (sp), The Washington Post (en)

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