US to require negative COVID-19 tests for all UK passengers

CDC says passengers from the UK must test negative via either a PCR or antigen test within 72 hours of departure.

A passenger approaches two airline workers in Christmas-themed headwear at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, in Arlington, Virginia, US, December 22, 2020 [Kevin Lamarque/ Reuters]

The United States will require all airline passengers arriving from the United Kingdom to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of departure amid concerns about a new coronavirus variant that may be more transmissible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement late on Thursday that all airline passengers arriving from the UK must test negative in order to fly to the US, starting on Monday.

The decision was a turnaround after the Trump administration told US airlines on Tuesday it was not planning to require any testing for arriving UK passengers. The move follows the emergence of a highly infectious new coronavirus variant in Britain that has prompted many countries to shut their borders to travellers from there.

Some US airlines already require a negative COVID-19 test.

On Monday, the three airlines that fly from London to JFK – Delta, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic – agreed to a request from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo that they screen passengers from Britain.

And earlier on Thursday, United Airlines and Delta Airlines said it was requiring all passengers on flights from the UK to the US to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure.

Delta’s policy, expanded from its decision on Monday to require the screenings on UK flights to New York’s JFK Airport, is effective December 24, while United’s requirement begins on December 28.

The CDC, in its statement, said that passengers from the UK can take either a PCR or antigen test.

The CDC said “viruses constantly change through mutation and preliminary analysis in the UK suggests that this new variant may 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 written documentation of their laboratory test result to the airline, the CDC said. Airlines must confirm negative test results for all passengers before they board.

If passengers choose not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding.

The CDC said the order will be signed on Friday and is effective from Monday.

News of the new strain, which scientists said was up to 70 percent more transmissible, has prompted alarm across the globe.

China also suspended direct flights to and from the UK indefinitely on Thursday. It had barred non-Chinese travellers from the UK last month, including those with valid visas and residence permits because of rising coronavirus cases.

“After much consideration, China has decided to take reference from other countries and suspend flights to and from UK,” Wang Wenbin, a foreign ministry spokesman, said at a 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 that it was extending compulsory quarantine by an extra seven days to 21 days for all visitors outside China.

“Noting the drastic change of the global pandemic situation with the new virus variant found in more countries, there is a need for the government to introduce resolute measures immediately … to ensure that no case would slip through the net even under very exceptional cases where the incubation period of the virus is longer than 14 days,” a government spokesman said.

Other countries that have suspended travel for Britons 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 closed their borders completely.

The World Health Organization (WHO) cautioned against considerable alarm over the new strain earlier this week, saying there was no evidence that the variant made people sicker or was more deadly than the existing strains of COVID-19.

The global health body also said vaccines developed to combat COVID-19 should handle the new variants as well, although checks were under way to ensure this was the case.

“So far, even though we have seen a number of changes, a number of mutations, none has made a significant impact on either the susceptibility of the virus to any of the currently used therapeutics, drugs or the vaccines under development and one hopes that will continue to be the case,” WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan told reporters on Monday.

The co-founder of BioNTech – one of the firms behind the vaccine that is being rolled out worldwide this week – has said its drug is “highly likely” to work against the mutated strain detected in UK and otherwise can be adapted in six weeks.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies