© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Transportation Secretary Buttigieg pictured at confirmation hearing
By David Shepardson
LANDOVER, Maryland (Reuters) – U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg gave an upbeat assessment about summer travel prospects on Monday as a growing number of Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19.
Touring a UPS facility just outside Washington, Buttigieg got a first-hand look at how it is shipping COVID-19 shots, while some airlines are reporting a rise in leisure bookings as more Americans get vaccinated.
“I’m looking forward to summer travel. Of course, it’s got to be based on conditions. We’ve got to make sure that we’re getting folks vaccinated,” Buttigieg said.
Wes Wheeler, president of Global Healthcare and Life Sciences at UPS, said the courier has delivered 80 million U.S. vaccine doses and about 110 million worldwide.
“We’ll be at 100 million in the United States by the end of this month,” Wheeler told Reuters. Between UPS and Fedex, the companies will have delivered 200 million doses in the U.S. by the end of March, he added.
Travel demand was hard hit by COVID-19 in 2020 as U.S. air travel fell 60% and the U.S. travel sector shed millions of jobs.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last week that tens of millions of Americans who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 should not travel, a blow to the airline and travel industries that have been battered by the pandemic.
Buttigieg said people should follow CDC recommendations, but added that he hopes for a “safe return to travel” by July 4.
“The process of easing restrictions, when we’re ready to do that, will be a little more complicated than the process of applying them,” Buttigieg said.
Many Americans are not heeding the CDC advice. The Transportation Security Administration said more than 1.35 million people were screened at U.S. airports Friday, the single busiest air travel day since March 2020.
Buttigieg declined to say when U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration will release its infrastructure plans, but noted a Sept. 30 deadline to get surface transportation reauthorized.
With a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package finally passed, Biden’s next big spending push is on the horizon, repairing the nation’s ailing bridges, roads and airports and investing billions in new projects like broadband internet.
Biden may sketch the outline of the plan in a joint address to Congress this month and provide details in April, giving lawmakers several months to work on the bill before an August recess, people familiar with the White House plans said.
“We’ve got a clock on everything we’re doing,” Buttigieg said.
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