US authorities are looking ‘very carefully’ into the virus variant spreading in the United Kingdom, top health officials said Sunday, while indicating that a ban on UK travel was not currently in the cards.
Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, said the US inaction on the new strain was ‘reprehensible’ and called for an end to flights from the UK, but Moncef Slaoui, chief advisor to the government’s Operation Warp Speed vaccine program, told CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ that US officials ‘don’t know yet’ if the variant is present in the country.
‘We are, of course… looking very carefully into this,’ including at the National Institutes of Health and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.
At the moment, he said, no strain of the virus appears to be resistant to the vaccines available.
‘This particular variant in the UK, I think, is very unlikely to have escaped the vaccine immunity,’ Slaoui said.
‘I don’t think there’s any reason for alarm right now,’ agreed Admiral Brett Giroir, the US official overseeing coronavirus testing, when asked about the new variant on ABC’s The Week.
Asked whether the United States was likely to follow the example of European countries that have suspended flights from the United Kingdom, Giroir replied: ‘I really don’t believe we need to do that yet.’
Slaoui and Giroir’s comments followed reports on Friday that President Donald Trump is considering lifting America’s travel ban on the UK and Europe as early as next week.
Operation Warp Speed advisor Moncef Slaoui (pictured) on Sunday said the US will not follow Europe’s lead with a ban on flights from the United Kingdom
Eleven countries have suspended flights from the UK amid fears over the virus variant
Cuomo said that the US must halt flights from the UK.
‘There is a disturbing story coming out of the United Kingdom of a highly contagious new variant of the COVID-19 virus,’ he said on Sunday.
‘A number of countries have banned people from the UK, and 120 countries demand that before you get on a flight in the UK to come to their country, you have to have tested negative.
‘The United States has a number of flights coming in from the UK each day and we have done absolutely nothing.
‘To me, this is reprehensible because this is what happened in the spring.’
Trump is expected to authorize the lifting of the travel ban through an executive order on Tuesday, The Telegraph reported, citing senior sources in the travel industry.
On November 25, Reuters reported the White House was considering rescinding entry bans for most non-US citizens who recently were in Brazil, Britain, Ireland and 26 other European countries.
Since then there has been no decision by President Donald Trump, but UK officials have held a series of high-level talks with White House and Cabinet officials.
The White House declined to comment on Friday.
But in an email to Reuters, a spokeswoman for the UK Department for Transport said ‘restarting transatlantic flights is of critical importance to the economic recovery of the UK and the US, the airline industry and for British nationals, most of whom cannot enter the US.
‘British officials continue to pursue the resolution to this issue.’
Trump is expected to authorize the lifting of the travel ban through an executive order on Tuesday, The Telegraph reported, citing senior sources in the travel industry
Nearly eight million more Covid-19 vaccine doses are to ship across the United States on Monday, Slaoui told CNN on Tuesday – two million of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and 5.9 million of the Moderna shot that was greenlighted on Friday.
The first Moderna shot was ‘most likely to be tomorrow morning,’ he said.
Slaoui spoke after some states had complained of delays in receiving doses of the Pfizer vaccine – a delay which General Gus Perna, who is overseeing the logistical operation as part of Operation Warp Speed, apologized for on Saturday.
‘We will work and learn from our mistakes,’ Slaoui said. The US government still expects 20 million people to be vaccinated by the end of the year or the first week of January.
While Vice President Mike Pence has done so publicly, and President-elect Joe Biden is to do so Monday, President Donald Trump has so far not indicated he will take the vaccine any time soon.
Boxes containing the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi, on December 20, 2020
With vaccine skepticism a concern, Giroir encouraged Trump to do so for his own health – ‘and also to generate more confidence among the people who follow him so closely.’
But surgeon general Jerome Adams told CBS’s Face the Nation that, due to the antibodies the president received during his own bout with COVID-19, ‘that is actually one scenario where we tell people maybe you should hold off on getting the vaccine’.
More than 316,000 people have been killed by COVID-19 in the United States, with new daily infections regularly topping 200,000 and deaths hovering at around 3,000 people every 24 hours.
With vaccines on the move there is light at the end of the tunnel – but Slaoui warned the situation will ‘get worse’ before it gets better, citing a surge after Thanksgiving and the coming year-end holidays.
On Sunday, incoming Biden administration surgeon general Vivek Murthy told NBC’s Meet the Press that he expects the general public to receive vaccinations by mid-summer or early fall.
The Centers for Disease Control is due to meet later Sunday to prioritize the next high risk groups for vaccination.