President Joe Biden has backed off travel quarantine to combat the omicron variant, as the US announced tougher pre-departure testing for all passengers.
The US administration is expected to announce on Thursday that it will require all passengers to present either a negative antigen or PCR test taken within one day of their departure for the US irrespective of whether they are vaccinated or not.
The move follows the US recording its first case of omicron with a fully vaccinated American in California who tested positive seven days after returning to the US from South Africa on November 22.
The new regime reduces the time allowed for pre-departure testing from the current 72 hours for jabbed passengers, which could increase costs if they have to request accelerated results.
Fully-jabbed travellers to the US currently have to have a pre-departure test no more than three days before the flight’s departure, while the unvaccinated have to take a test within a day before their flight.
The move is less draconian than the UK which is currently requiring all passengers, including the fully jabbed, to quarantine until they have a negative result from a PCR test taken within two days of arrival in the UK.
The US move could, however, fuel demands in the UK for Boris Johnson to introduce pre-departure testing as a more effective way to prevent omicron reaching the UK.
It emerged on Wednesday that Sage scientists advised earlier this week that pre-departure testing – scrapped more than a month ago – could be a “valuable” weapon in preventing the import of the new variant.
Pre-departure testing not ruled out in UK
Health Minister George Freeman told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme on Thursday morning that the Government had not ruled out reintroducing pre departure testing.
“We are watching the data very closely and we will update the guidance as required,” he said. “Scientists advise. The Prime Minister, Cabinet and Health Secretary [Sajid Javid] have to take really difficult judgements balancing health and economics.”
Labour is pressing for the Government to reintroduce pre-departure testing as shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper warned the government not to be too slow to take action to prevent cases of the omicron variant entering the UK.
“It is totally unacceptable that ministers are failing to take action at the border when even their own advisors are telling them to introduce pre-departure tests,” she said.
“It cannot be right that people can travel to an airport, board a busy flight, queue at busy departure gates, and travel on trains and buses in the UK, all without having taken a test.”
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