European borders are closed and flights cancelled as a highly contagious COVID-19 strain in the UK takes hold.
The United States government could expand coronavirus requirements for travellers beyond the United Kingdom as early as next week, sources briefed on the matter told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday, as the Canadian government announced that all passengers must have tested negative for COVID-19 within three days before their arrival in the country.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other US agencies held a lengthy call with US airlines Wednesday that discussed expanding the requirements, sources briefed on the call said.
The US government on Monday began requiring all airline passengers arriving from the UK – including US citizens – to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of departure. A US Department of Transportation spokesman confirmed the call with airlines took place, Reuters reported.
The CDC said in a statement Wednesday that “efforts are currently ongoing in the US to assess the risk reduction associated with testing and other recommended preventative measures, determine what a feasible testing regime for air travel may look like, and gain some level of agreement on standards for a harmonised approach to testing for international air travel.”
Officials said the White House could make a decision as early as next week on adding new countries to the testing requirements but it is not clear when those new requirements would take effect.
The talks come after a new strain of the coronavirus discovered in the UK and thought to be more contagious was confirmed to have infected a man near Denver, Colorado, on Tuesday. It is the first known case of the new COVID variant in the US. The man had no travel history, raising questions about how he was infected with the strain.
US public health officials on Tuesday said the coronavirus testing the US requires for travellers from the UK should probably be extended to other countries, as well.
“I think that probably should be extended to other countries,” US Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir told MSNBC.
The decision was a turnaround after the Trump administration had told US airlines it was not planning to require testing for arriving UK passengers.
United Airlines sent a memo to President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team on Tuesday calling for a White House task force to restore air travel safely and arguing for “passenger testing as an alternative to travel restrictions”.
The memo, obtained by Reuters, said that “by advancing safe alternatives to travel restrictions, the White House Task Force would help restore US global leadership in public health while re-establishing critical linkages between economies, communities, businesses and families around the globe.”
Biden has promised to mandate masks for all interstate travel, including flights.
The US has seen more than 19 million confirmed coronavirus infections and more than 340,000 deaths, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
Separately on Wednesday, the Canadian government said that passengers must have a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days before they arrive in the country.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the measure will be implemented in the next few days.
Canada already required those entering the country to self-isolate for 14 days and it has already banned all flights from the UK because of the new variant of COVID-19 spreading there.