US to require negative Covid test from UK travellers

The US government will require all airline passengers arriving from the United Kingdom to test negative for Covid-19 72 hours or less before their departure from Monday, amid concerns about a new coronavirus variant that may be more transmissible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement that all airline passengers arriving from the UK must test negative in order to fly to the US. The decision was a U-turn after the Trump administration told US airlines on Tuesday it was not planning to require any testing for arriving UK passengers.

The decision follows the emergence of a highly infectious new coronavirus variant in Britain that has prompted more than 40 countries to shut their borders to travellers from the country.

The order is expected to be signed by Donald Trump on Friday. The British embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment late on Thursday.

Earlier, United Airlines and Delta Airlines said they were requiring all passengers on flights from the UK to the US to present a negative Covid-19 test taken less than 72 hours before departure.

The CDC said that passengers must test negative via 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% more transmissible than previously circulating variants”.

The CDC noted that in March, President Trump suspended entry of nearly all foreign nationals who visited the UK in the previous 14 days, which has reduced air travel to the US from Britain by about 90%.

Under the new policy, passengers departing from the UK for the United States must provide written documentation of their laboratory test result (in hard copy or electronic form) 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. The additional testing requirement, it said, “will fortify our protection of the American public to improve their health and safety and ensure responsible international travel.”

Delta’s policy, expanded from its decision on Monday to require screenings on UK flights to New York’s JFK airport, was effective from 24 December, while United’s requirement begins on 28 December. The three airlines that fly from London to JFK – Delta, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic – agreed to a request from the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, that they screen passengers from Britain.

US airlines have already drastically scaled back flying to the UK, as well as the rest of Europe.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he expected the new variant to spread in the US if it was not doing so already.

Trevor Bedford, a genomic epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, told the Wall Street Journal that the US had been working more slowly at sequencing viral genomes than the UK.

Samples tested so far had not picked it up, Bedford said, adding that “it could well be here at low frequency and just not detected yet”.