A tale of two responses to pandemic travel

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MIXED SIGNALS: Is it possible to simultaneously take a hands-on and hands-off approach? If so, the Trump administration seems to be doing just that by taking steps to reduce the spread of the coronavirus on international flights while still declining to require masks on commercial and public transportation.

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The latest: Officials from DHS, DOT and other U.S. agencies are having preliminary discussions with foreign counterparts — primarily the U.K. and Germany — to develop travel corridors between the U.S. and specific international cities, The Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend, with the hope of re-opening travel between New York and London by the winter holiday. Under the plan, passengers would have to be tested for the coronavirus before and after their flight in lieu of lengthy quarantines.

So far: A DHS official said talks over resuming transatlantic flights are still in the “early stages.” A source familiar with the matter told us the conversations have focused on developing policy and guidance as well as the possibility of requiring two pre-departure tests — one a few days in advance and another at the airport — as well as a post-arrival test that might occur after a short quarantine.

Supporters include: Airlines for America is among aviation industry groups that have pushed for a federal Covid-19 testing pilot to replace quarantine requirements for some international flights as a way to help revive air travel. Kevin Burke, CEO of Airports Council International-North America, also said he supported the new federal effort. “As we look to the future of travel, our industry supports leveraging advances in testing capabilities to enable travel corridors or ‘air bridges’ to reconnect communities both domestically and internationally,” he said in a statement.

ON THE OTHER HAND: The White House reportedly blocked a CDC order to require that passengers and employees wear masks on public and commercial transportation and in transit hubs like airports, train stations and bus depots. Health officials told The New York Times that the order was drafted under the agency’s “quarantine powers” and had the support of HHS Secretary Alex Azar, but “the White House Coronavirus Task Force, led by Vice President Mike Pence, declined to even discuss it.”

Reminder: As we reported last week, DOT again rejected a request to require masks on commercial transportation, prompting Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden to pledge to do so, if elected.

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