Jayme Deerwester | USA TODAY
New York City reports 2 cases of UK virus variant
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says two cases of coronavirus with the United Kingdom variant have been reported in New York City, along with 10 other cases in the state. (Jan. 13)
Beginning Monday, the United Kingdom for at least the next month will require all incoming travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test and quarantine.
The news came Friday, just hours after the country enacted a ban on travel from all of South America as well as Portugal and Cape Verde after the emergence of a new strain of the virus in Brazil.
“If you come to this country, you must have proof of a negative COVID test you have taken in the 72 hours before leaving and you must have filled in your passenger locator form and your airline will ask for proof of both before you take off,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a press conference at 10 Downing Street. “You may also be checked when you land and face substantial fines for refusing to comply. And upon arrival, you must then quarantine for 10 days, not leaving your home for any reason at all or take another test on Day 5 and wait for proof of another negative result. We will be stepping up our enforcement both at the border and in-country.”
Johnson, who spent time in intensive care unit during his own fight with COVID last spring, said the new measures are meant to prevent new COVID-19 variants from entering the country as the U.K. rolls out its vaccine distribution program. He said the U.K. has vaccinated around 3.2 million people so far.
“It’s precisely because we have the hope of that vaccine and the risk of new strains coming from overseas that we must take additional steps now to stop those strains from entering the country,” he said. “Yesterday, we announced that we’re banning flights from South America and Portugal and to protect us against the risk from as-yet-unidentified strains we will also temporarily close all travel corridors from 4 a.m. on Monday.”
Children under 11 and people traveling for urgent medical treatment are exempt from the testing requirement, as well as certain essential workers.
This means that any existing travel corridors or “bubbles” – agreements between the U.K. and other countries that allowed travelers moving between certain airports, such as Newark and Heathrow, skip quarantine as long as they have a negative test – are temporarily revoked.
A new variant of COVID began circulating in southeastern England as early as September, according to the World Health Organization. Last month, Johnson estimated that the new strain could be up to 70% more contagious.
Over Christmas, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced all travelers from the U.K. would be required to present a negative test to enter the country.
England itself entered a new, nationwide lockdown on Jan. 6. Under the measure, people living in England cannot leave their residences without an “reasonable excuse,” such as essential work that cannot be done from home, shopping for essential items such as food or medicine, meeting other members of one’s support or childcare bubble or moving children between the homes of divorced parents. Schools and nonessential businesses are also closed.
In London, where lockdown measures began before Christmas, the restrictions already appear to be having an effect. On Friday, the BBC cited new government figures that show the R-number (the rate of new infections spread by a single infected individual) is lower than last week, dropping from between 1.1 to 1.4 to between 0.9 and 1.2.