Amid concerns over a newly detected variant of the coronavirus spreading across the UK, United Airlines announced Thursday that it will require all travelers from the UK flying to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to show evidence of a negative coronavirus test.
According to the airline, anyone traveling from London Heathrow to Chicago, Newark, Washington Dulles and San Francisco must show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their departure starting Monday.
“The health and safety of our employees and customers is of our highest priority,” the airline said in a statement. “United has been a leader in enforcing new policies and innovations designed to keep employees and passengers safer while traveling, including mandating masks and requiring customers to complete a ‘Ready to Fly’ checklist before flights admit they have not been diagnosed with COVID -19 in 14 last day and had no COVID-related symptoms. ”
The latest requirements will apply to any traveler over 5 years of age and may include molecular or antigen tests. Those with connecting flights in the LHR whose journeys originate from other countries will be exempted, the airline said.
This month, United operates four daily flights from London Heathrow to its four US hubs.
Earlier this week, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said he did not believe banning travel from Britain because of a new coronavirus variant was needed, but said the government was working with airlines on plans to mandate negative testing for travelers.
Speaking in Chicago, Adams said a variant that sparked concern in Britain had been detected in many countries and had been circulating for weeks, maybe even months.
“This variant is already present in at least three to four other states, it has been identified,” said Adams, along with Illinois and Chicago public health officials. “This variant has actually been around for weeks to months in other places and so there is a possibility that it is already here. What we need to emphasize to people is that the United States is connected to the rest of the world whether we want to or not and the most important thing we can do is multiply our public health measures. ”
Adams said that in his discussions with medical experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, there are no guidelines yet to stop flights from the UK, although the CDC states “ongoing travel between the UK and the United States, as well as the high prevalence of this variant among current UK infections, increases the possibility of imports.”
“The US is connected to the rest of the world whether we want it or not,” said Adams. “The most important thing we can do is multiply our public health measures.”
So far, British Airways will ask the traveler to get a negative test result for the coronavirus before boarding a flight to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday. Cuomo told a news conference that he also asked Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic to comply with the same conditions.
“If we continue to follow existing public health measures and that the Illinois people are increasingly doing a better and better job, we will be able to beat it,” said Adams.
From Canada to India, one country after another flights prohibited from the UK this week, while France banned British trucks for 48 hours while tensions were assessed.
Adams stressed that SARS-coV-2, which causes COVID-19, has mutated more than 20 times this year alone. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “the rapid change of new versions from rare strains to common strains has alarmed scientists in the UK.”
“So far there is no indication that this new variant will be resistant to the vaccine,” said Adams, adding that “there may be a day when we have a variant that doesn’t respond to this vaccine and that’s okay too because that’s what happens with seasonal flu. . ”
Adams said the bigger worries came ahead of the holidays this week and next.
“My level of concern about this isn’t about the variants, it’s about the fact that we need people to be very careful this holiday season about taking precautions because although this variant of the virus turns out to be more contagious, that’s not changing,” said Adams. “It only further emphasizes the importance of washing hands, wearing masks, keeping track of distance and waiting to assemble.”
Adams’ comments on Tuesday echoed comments made by the CDC, which in a statement said that while the variant has not been detected in the US, “the virus has only sequenced about 51,000 of the 17 million US cases.”
“Given the fraction of US infections that have been sequenced, the variant could already be in the United States undetected,” the CDC wrote.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday that the city’s health department was following news of a new and potentially more contagious strain of the coronavirus “very, very closely.”
Lightfoot said the city had been monitoring the latest developments prior to the current reporting and said it was ready to “take all necessary action.”
“We are following this very closely, we are digging,” Lightfoot said at an unrelated press conference Monday. “I don’t think we know enough about what kind of potential new virus is, how it spreads, but believe me, we are following very closely, and we will take all necessary measures to protect the public.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday imposed a tight lockdown on London and much of southern England in response to rising coronavirus infections. He said the growth in cases appeared to come from a new variant of the coronavirus which is about 70% more transmissible than existing strains.
Meanwhile, the European Union approved a coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, setting the stage for the first COVID-19 firing across the block of 27 countries which will start on December 27. The approval comes just hours after the EU’s drug regulatory agency said the vaccine met safety and quality standards. It’s already being shared in the UK and US