Amid concerns over new variants of SARS-CoV-2 causing rapid spread of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday announced new testing requirements for inbound travellers from the United Kingdom. The US health agency said that the air passengers arriving from the UK would require to show a negative Covid-19 test result obtained within 72 hours before the departure. The testing requirement is aimed at curbing the spread of new Covid-19 variant in the United States, a country already overwhelmed by infections.
“Airlines must confirm the negative test result for all passengers before they board. If a passenger chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger,” the CDC order reads.
Why is the new testing requirement may not be enough?
The CDC acknowledged in its order that testing “does not eliminate all risk”, but when combined with other measures like self-monitoring for Covid-19 symptoms, wearing masks, and social distancing, “it can make travel safer.” The researchers on the CDC’s Covid-19 response team reportedly said that testing three days before a flight may reduce the risk of spreading the virus by only 5-9%.
According to a CNN report, Dr Paul Offit, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, said that the new testing requirement “is like putting up a chain link fence to keep out a mosquito.” The latest advisory doesn’t mandate institutional quarantine, a measure announced by several countries for incoming travellers from the UK. In the case of false Covid-19 negative results, the new testing requirement could fail to contain the new variant of the coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in southeast England.
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A report by CDC scientists, published in November, suggests that testing on the day of departure can reduce the risk of transmission by 37-61%. It also said that a 14-day quarantine after arrival, without symptom monitoring or testing, can reduce risk by 97-100% on its own. The report is based on mathematical modelling and has not been peer-reviewed.
Earlier this week, the top infectious disease expert of the United States, Dr Anthony Fauci, said that it’s “certainly possible” that the new variant of coronavirus has already reached the US. During an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America, Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, had called travel ban a “dramatic step”, but indicated that there could be a requirement to test travellers before they arrive in the country.
“When you have this amount of spread within a place like the UK, that you really need to assume that it’s here already, and certainly is not the dominant strain, but I would not be surprised at all if it is already here,” he said.