Flying from London to Newark on United? You'll need a negative coronavirus test

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Starting Monday, United passengers traveling from London to Newark will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test, according to an announcement Thursday by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.

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Negative results from a molecular COVID-19 test or antigen test must be obtained within 72 hours of departure from London Heathrow Airport for incoming flights to Newark Liberty International Airport.

"As we continue to experience a second wave of COVID-19 cases, it’s critical that we take any and all precautions to mitigate the potential for further transmission," Murphy said in a statement. "While New Jersey continues to strongly discourage all non-essential travel at this time, if unavoidable, international travelers should adhere to CDC guidance for pre- and post-flight testing and the recommended self-quarantine period.”

On Thursday, New Jersey reported 4,871 positive COVID-19 cases and 80 confirmed deaths, bringing the statewide totals since the beginning of the pandemic to 449,842 cases and 16,599 deaths.

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According to United, the policy will also effect incoming flights from London to its hubs in Chicago, Washington and San Francisco. Individuals connecting in London Heathrow Airport onto a United flight from another country will be exempt.

"The health and safety of our employees and customers is our highest priority," the airline said in a statement.

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United will operate four daily flights between London and its hubs in Chicago, Newark, Washington and San Francisco for the month of December and two daily flights between London and its hubs in Newark and Chicago in January 2021. Same-day, pre-flight rapid tests will be available for ticketed passengers at the Collinson testing center located in Terminal 2 at London Heathrow.

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The move comes after a new variant of COVID-19 was discovered in the United Kingdom earlier this month, which has led to flight restrictions from multiple European Union nations including France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Italy, Bulgaria and Ireland.

As scientists study the variant, over 500,000 doses of Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the U.K., according to Prime Minister Boris Johnson

The variant in the United Kingdom hasn’t been identified through sequencing in the United States, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday. However, viruses have only been sequenced from about 51,000 of the 17 million U.S. cases, CDC officials said.

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The flexibilty of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine "includes the ability to alter the RNA sequence in the vaccine to cover new strains of the virus, if one ever were to emerge that is not well covered by the current vaccine," A Pfizer spokesperson told Fox News on Tuesday.

In addition, Pfizer and BioNTech have tested people immunized with the COVID-19 vaccine for its ability to neutralize multiple mutant strains.

"To date, we have found consistent coverage of all the strains tested," the Pfizer spokesperson said.

The two companies are now generating data on how well people immunized with the vaccine may be able to fight off the new strain from the U.K.

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In addition to the strain found in England, Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Wednesday that another variation of the virus has been detected in two people who were contacts of cases that stemmed from recent travel to South Africa.

Hancock said the new variant is "highly concerning" because it "is yet more transmissible and it appears to have mutated further than the new variant that was discovered in the U.K."

While researchers continue to study the potential implications of the new variant, the U.K. has ordered those with new cases and close contacts of cases detected in the U.K. to quarantine, and placed immediate restrictions on travel from South Africa.

"Anyone in the U.K. who has been in South Africa in the past fortnight, and anyone who is a close contact of someone who has been in South Africa in the past fortnight must quarantine immediately," he said, adding that they must restrict all contact "with any person, whatsoever."

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According to the latest update from Johns Hopkins University, the United has surpassed 18.5 million confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 328,000 Americans who have died due to COVID-19.

Fox News' Kayla Rivas and Alexandra Hein contributed to this report

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