At the request of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, British Airways has agreed to test passengers for a new coronavirus mutation before they board a flight to Kennedy airport.
In an effort to keep New York free of the highly contagious strain that has shut down London, Cuomo asked airline officials to take the proactive measure, the governor said on Monday.
The move comes as more than a dozen countries shut their borders to visitors from the United Kingdom as the nation grapples with a new highly contagious strain of the coronavirus.
The democrat said he has also asked Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic — the other two airlines that transport passengers between New York and London — to “voluntarily agree” to screen passengers on flights to Kennedy airport.
Some 120 countries across the globe already require pre-flight testing. Cuomo said he will do whatever is possible to bring the state up to the increased security threshold.
“I’m only a governor, but I will do anything I can to protect the people of the state of New York,” Cuomo said during a virtual press briefing in Albany.
“I have no legal authority on international travel. When a plane lands in an airport, only customs and border control has jurisdiction. That’s my issue here. I can’t halt flights. However you’re landing on New York soil. Therefore I do have legal jurisdiction that I can assert,” the governor told reporters.
“We saw this movie. UK closes down, other countries ban. Yes, I think the US should halt travel … Period,” he added. “Don’t make the same mistake you did in the spring … if you can’t do that, negative test required before you get on the flight… Best would be to halt.
“They will say they don’t know. I was on the phone with top experts all weekend. ‘We don’t know how deadly…we don’t know if the vaccine is effective. Our working assumption is the vaccine is effective,’” Cuomo said.
At a virtual press briefing from City Hall Monday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed with his frequent sparring partner in Albany.
“I take a very stern view of this matter,” said de Blasio. “Here you have a new strain, apparently even more infectious, developing in the UK, already spreading in Europe — I think the best solution is at least a temporary travel ban for all incoming flights from Europe and the UK to protect us from an exacerbation of a second wave.
“Why on Earth wouldn’t we put that temporary measure in effect?” he added. “We can’t do that, only the federal government could. At least, have a requirement for a negative test before getting on a plane.”
The new testing agreement comes as domestic airport traffic saw a significant increase this weekend, with millions of travelers flying in defiance of warnings and orders against holiday travel.