WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A senior U.S. public health official on Tuesday said the coronavirus testing the United States requires for travelers from Britain should probably be extended to other countries as well.
“I think that probably should be extended to other countries,” U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir told MSNBC.
The U.S. government on Monday began requiring all airline passengers arriving from the United Kingdom – including U.S. citizens – to test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of departure, amid concerns about a new coronavirus variant that may be more transmissible.
The decision was a turnaround after the Trump administration had told U.S. airlines it was not planning to require testing for arriving UK passengers.
The administration is holding some discussions with U.S. airlines about the possibility of expanding testing regimes, but no decisions have been made, officials said.
One key issue is whether the White House would agree to 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.
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, says “by advancing safe alternatives to travel restrictions, the White House Task Force would help restore U.S. global leadership in public health while re-establishing critical linkages between economies, communities, businesses and families around the globe.”
Biden has vowed to mandate masks for all interstate travel, including flights.
In November, Reuters reported that the White House was considering rescinding those entry bans that cover the 26 members of the Schengen area that allow travel across open borders, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Brazil.
Giroir noted on Tuesday that the restrictions have led to a 90% to 95% decrease in travel from Britain.
It is not clear if the variant is in the United States, Giroir said, adding: “It might be here…. I think we have an advantage because travel has been restricted since March.”
The Trump administration imposed the bans in an effort to contain the coronavirus. It is not considering lifting separate entry bans on most non-U.S. citizens who have recently been in China or Iran, officials said.
Some administration and airline officials say requiring negative COVID-19 tests for international passengers could allow the White House to drop the restrictions on most non-U.S. residents traveling from Brazil and European countries.
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Tim Ahmann; editing by Susan Heavey, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Dan Grebler)