Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced that, in the wake of a new, highly contagious variant of the COVID-19 virus found in the United Kingdom, British Airways, Delta Airlines and Virgin Atlantic have voluntarily agreed to require a COVID-19 test before allowing passengers to board planes traveling from the U.K. to New York.
With this move, New York joins the list of 120 countries with a similar requirement on flights from the U.K.
The governor is also continuing to call on the federal government to, as his camp said, “finally act responsibility and impose travel restrictions, as 120 other countries have done, to avoid the same grave mistakes of the spring where the virus entered New York from Europe with no warning.”
Cuomo said, “This is very concerning, this new strain that they have found in the U.K. The strain, according to Boris Johnson, is 70% more transmittable than the old strain. They don't know if there's any higher rate of death; they don't know if the vaccine is as effective with the new strain. The quote from the U.K. medical officer was our ‘working assumption,’ quote unquote, is that the vaccine works.
“The strain is so serious that the UK has closed down again. If the U.K. believes the strain is so serious that Boris Johnson, who said the week before we're not going to cancel Christmas, we're not going to close, did a 180-degree turn, and then closed parts of the U.K., it's serious, my friends, and we are on notice about it.
“Why don't we act intelligently for a change? Why don't we mandate testing before people get on the flight, or halt the flights from the U.K. now? Many other countries have done this. This is not a case of first impression. You have many countries that have just restricted flights from the U.K. Many European countries have done it.
“Why are we doing nothing? One-hundred-and-twenty countries require the U.K. travelers to receive a negative test before they get on the plane in the U.K. One-hundred-and-twenty countries, and the United States has done nothing.
“People in government often believe doing nothing is safe. ‘Well, if I do nothing, I won't be criticized.’ I don't believe that. I believe that's exactly wrong. There are situations where doing nothing is actually doing something; where doing nothing is actually an affirmative action. When you do not require the U.K. flights to be tested, you are allowing thousands of U.K. passengers to arrive here every day. The authorities say they haven't found the strain here yet. They are science-based (and), until they find the strain, they will say there is no strain.
“I believe, intuitively, it's already here. I believe that because, if it's been flying around the world, it will be here. I say that intuitively because I have an educated intuition, because I lived this and you lived this. This was the spring. This is how we had that New York ambush in the first place. This was ‘don't worry, the coronavirus is in China.’ No, it wasn't. The coronavirus got on a plane in China and went to Europe and it came here from Europe. Nobody said anything for two months in the federal government. It had been coming for so long that it was too late.
“If this is more transmittable than COVID – 70 times more says Boris Johnson – this is a major problem. For us to once again be incompetent as a federal government and take more action is just not a viable option for us in New York. We learned this lesson the hard way and we're not going to go through it again. We have been victimized by federal incompetence and federal negligence. That is a fact. We're not going to be victimized again.
“There are three airlines that come from the U.K. and fly in to our airports. Our airports are run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The three airlines are British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic. They daily are bringing several thousand passengers per day. I am asking those airlines to add New York state to the list of the 120 countries that require tests before the flights leave the U.K. for New York. One-hundred-and-twenty countries do it. My request is simple: Please add New York to the list of 120 countries. ‘Well, you're not a country.’ I know that; but as governor of New York state, I have asked them to do that. We do have a public health emergency in existence in New York state."
He added, “I would not be doing my job as governor of New York if I sat here and let the federal incompetence create another emergency and disaster that cost the lives of New Yorkers. I am only a governor, but I will do anything I can and whatever I can to protect the people of the state of New York. That is my job and I know and I believe my intuition is correct that this is another disaster waiting to happen.
“If the U.K. closed down – if 120 countries require testing; if Canada left the plane on the tarmac because they wouldn't allow it to de-board; if the other European countries have said that they're banning travel – why are we doing nothing? Why are we doing nothing?
“Why did we do nothing in the spring? I'm not going to allow it to happen, or I will try my best to do everything within my power."