The U.S. government may expand coronavirus testing requirements for international air travelers beyond Britain as early as next week, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other U.S. agencies held a lengthy call with U.S. airlines Wednesday that discussed expanding COVID-19 test requirements to travelers arriving from other countries, sources briefed on the call said.
The U.S. government on Monday began requiring all airline passengers arriving from Britain - including U.S. citizens - to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of departure.
The CDC said in a statement that "efforts are currently ongoing in the U.S. 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 harmonized approach to testing for international air travel."
The CDC expansion could eventually cover all U.S.-bound international air arrivals, officials said. On Wednesday, Canada said it will soon require that air travelers test negative for COVID-19 before arrival.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
Airlines for America, a trade group representing major U.S. airlines, said Wednesday it has "been advocating for the federal government to set a national standard on testing in order to lift travel restrictions." The group added it believes "testing can be used to safely reopen borders."
A U.S. Transportation Department spokesman confirmed the call with airlines took place.
Airlines told government agencies on Wednesday any new testing requirements should be phased in by country and it must be determined if there is enough testing capacity and a willingness to allocate those tests to facilitate international travel before expanding requirements, the sources said.
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.
On Tuesday, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir said coronavirus testing for UK travelers should probably be extended to other countries.
The UK testing was adopted amid concerns about a new coronavirus variant that may be more transmissible. Colorado Governor Jared Polis said Tuesday the state discovered a case of the highly infectious coronavirus variant.
One issue is whether the White House would drop restrictions that bar most non-U.S. citizens from coming to the United States if they have been in much of Europe or Brazil within the last 14 days as part of new testing requirements.
Giroir noted Tuesday the restrictions have led to a 90% to 95% decrease in travel from Britain.