Biden says he doesn’t expect more travel restrictions or lockdowns as Covid omicron variant spreads

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Travelers walk through Terminal A at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport November 23, 2021 in Arlington, Virginia.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

President Joe Biden on Monday said he doesn’t expect the U.S. to impose additional travel restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus omicron variant, sending some airline stocks higher.

Airline and aerospace stocks fell sharply on Friday after several countries reported cases of the omicron variant and established new travel restrictions. The U.S. on Monday began to temporarily bar visitors from South Africa, where scientists first reported the strain, and from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.

The degree of the variant’s spread will determine whether more travel restrictions are necessary, Biden said at a news conference Monday.

“I don’t anticipate that at this point,” he said. The president also said he doesn’t think lockdowns are necessary.

The new rules come three weeks after the U.S. lifted strict pandemic travel rules that prohibited entry to foreign visitors from the U.K., Brazil, India, South Africa and nearly 30 other nations. Airline executives said bookings surged after the administration set a date to lift the rules, which were first put in place early in the pandemic.

Reports of omicron cases span from Israel to Hong Kong and Canada. Israel and Japan implemented some of the strictest travel bans, temporarily prohibiting foreign visitors.

Domestic travel has rebounded sharply this year after vaccines were widely disrupted and cities eased pandemic restrictions. U.S. airlines had some of their busiest days since February 2020 over Thanksgiving week.

Large network airlines are heavily reliant on long-haul international travel. Executives have been particularly upbeat about the return of trans-Atlantic trips in 2022, but additional travel restrictions could slow that segment’s recovery.

United Airlines was up 1% in afternoon trading, gaining after Biden’s remarks. Delta Air Lines and American Airlines were little changed, recovering from the day’s lows.

Discount carriers that don’t have trans-Atlantic or other long-haul international service rose even more, with Spirit and Sun Country each up more than 3%.

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