The United States will require all air passengers coming from the United Kingdom to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of departure due to concerns about a new variant of the coronavirus that could be more transmissible.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement late Thursday that all airline passengers coming from the UK must have a negative test to be able to fly to the U.S. starting Monday.
The decision is a reversal after the Trump administration told U.S. airlines on Tuesday that it had no plans to require any testing for arriving British passengers. The move follows the emergence of a highly contagious new variant of the coronavirus in Britain that has led many countries to close borders to travelers from there.
Some U.S. airlines are already requiring a negative COVID-19 test.
On Monday, three airlines flying from London to JFK – Delta, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic – agreed at the request of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to check passengers from Britain.
From tomorrow @British_Airways will ask passengers on British flights to NY to show a negative COVID test before departure.
We are in talks with Delta and Virgin Atlantic to do the same.
We cannot allow history to repeat itself with this new variant of the virus.
– Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) December 21, 2020
And earlier on Thursday, United Airlines and Delta Airlines said they required all passengers on flights from the UK to the US to present a negative COVID-19 test done within 72 hours of departure.
Delta’s policy, extended by Monday’s decision to require screenings of British flights to New York’s JFK airport, takes effect on December 24, while United’s request begins on December 28.
The CDC said in a statement that travelers from the UK can do a PCR or antigen test.
The CDC said that “viruses are constantly changing with mutations, and preliminary analyzes in the UK suggest that this new variant could be up to 70 percent more transmissible than previously circulating variants.”
Under the new policy, passengers departing from the UK for the US must provide the airline with written documentation of the results of laboratory tests, the CDC said. Airlines must confirm negative test results for all passengers before boarding.
If passengers choose not to take the test, the airline must deny boarding.
The CDC said the order would be signed on Friday and has been in effect since Monday.
The news of the new strain, which scientists said is up to 70 percent more portable, has caused alarm around the world.
China also suspended direct flights to and from the UK indefinitely on Thursday. Last month, it banned travel for non-Chinese travelers from the UK, including those with valid visas and residence permits due to growing coronavirus cases.
“After much deliberation, China has decided to take references from other countries and suspend flights to and from the UK,” Wang Wenbin, a foreign ministry spokesman, said at the daily briefing.
“China will closely monitor relevant developments and dynamically adjust control measures depending on the situation,” he added.
Hong Kong, which has also banned flights from the UK, said on Friday it was extending mandatory quarantine for an additional seven days to 21 days for all visitors outside China.
“Noticing the drastic change in the global pandemic situation with a new variant of the virus found in more countries, the government should immediately take decisive action … to ensure that no case goes missing even in very exceptional cases when the virus incubation period is longer than 14 days, ”a government spokesman said.
Other countries that have suspended travel to the British include France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Belgium, Canada, India, Pakistan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia and Jordan.
In the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman have completely closed their borders.
The World Health Organization (WHO) warned earlier this week of a significant alert over the new strain, saying there was no evidence that the variant had made people sicker or more deadly than existing strains of COVID-19.
The global health authority also said that vaccines developed to combat COVID-19 should also handle new variants, although they are in the process of checking whether this is the case.
“So far, although we have seen many changes, many mutations, none have had a significant impact on the susceptibility of the virus to any of the currently used therapeutic drugs, or vaccines in development, and she hopes it will continue to be so,” said the chief scientist. WHO Soumya Swaminathan reporters on Monday.
The co-founder of BioNTech – one of the companies behind the vaccine being launched around the world this week – said his drug was “very likely” to work against a mutated strain discovered in the UK, and could otherwise be adjusted in six weeks.