New York Governor Andrew Cuomo — spooked like much of the nation at a more infectious Covid-19 strain identified in the UK – asked the federal government to require that airlines test all passengers on U.S.-bound flights. He clinched an unusual private arrangement with three of them, Delta, British Air and Virgin Atlantic, which agreed to test people flying from the UK to New York. But that doesn’t stop flights to other states, risking a replay of early 2020 when the virus first snuck in from Europe.

The three carriers now have testing agreements with 120 countries, and with New York. “I called the airlines and asked to be added to a country protocol, and they agreed” voluntarily, Cuomo said at a Tuesday press briefing. The federal government controls U.S. borders. “This is to me a redux of the spring,” he said. “It’s coming from Europe. It’s so frustrating. It violates common sense… I would say to the U.S. to have mandatory testing of anyone coming from any country and flying into the U.S.”

Meanwhile, New York is directing hospitals across the state to test for the variant. “If the variant is here, I want to know… This is urgent. We are mobilizing every hospital lab in the state that can perform this test to perform this test,” he said, and then to contact trace back. New York has one of the lowest infection rates in the nation but can’t stop the virus coming in from other states.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC’s Good Morning America Tuesday morning that the new mutant strain is likely already in the U.S. and that mandating testing for all transatlantic flights is “in active discussion.”

More than 40 countries have banned UK flights outright. Fauci said he doesn’t think a ban is necessary.

The variant, or B.1.1.7, began appearing recently in virus samples taken from southern England. There’s no evidence that it makes people get sicker or more likely to die or that it’s resistant to current vaccines.

But the strain, arriving in the midst of a heavy second wave, has added an unwelcome new element to the ongoing coronavirus saga — snarling European trade and travel and putting a damper on financial markets even as vaccines begin to offer hope for 2021.


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