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UPDATE: Cuomo Reverses Himself On UK Travel Ban

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo eased off on his call to halt planes from Great Britain to New York City after he said he heard the federal government’s infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci say that he thinks a travel ban is premature. Fauci, who spoke on the PBS Newshour, did say that he, like Cuomo, suspects the mutated form of the virus might already be present in the U.S.

British Airways, Virgin Airlines and Delta Airlines have agreed to test passengers on flights from the United Kingdom to New York for COVID-19 after a mutated and more contagious strain of the virus led to a Christmas lockdown there.

Cuomo upped his request for more testing of airline passengers, saying those boarding planes from any country to New York should undergo a COVID test.

“The U.K. variant is in the U.K., yeah, but within days it gets on a plane and it’s now global,” Cuomo said.

The governor said several hospitals in the state have begun the testing for the new strain of the virus, and so far 4,000 samples show no evidence of it.

Cuomo originally said he’d like the U.S. to join 40 other countries that have imposed a complete travel ban on arrivals from the U.K.?

Cuomo warned that the new strain might already be in the U.S. and could cause another wave of infection. He said he believes it may already have arrived with the several thousand passengers a day who have continued to fly between Heathrow Airport and JFK and LaGuardia airports in New York City.

“I believe, intuitively, it’s already here,” Cuomo said. “Because if it’s been flying around the world, it will be here.”

Cuomo had said earlier Tuesday he wanted President Donald Trump’s administration to join the other countries and also ground planes from the U.K. to the U.S. The governor said the virus most likely came to New York last spring through infected people on flights from Europe, which were not curtailed by federal officials until later in 2020.

“We saw this movie,” Cuomo had said prior to reversing himself. “Yes, I think the U.S. should halt travel.”

The governor also said the first batches of vaccines continue to arrive in New York; 346,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine are on the way, and 120,000 more doses are coming from Pfizer, for a total of 630,000 shots so far.

He said 38,000 front-line health care workers have already received the first of the two vaccine doses. Vaccination of nursing home residents and staff begins later this week and is expected to take six weeks to complete.

Cuomo has appointed a?special panel?to review distribution of vaccines when more become available. Members include state Attorney General Tish James, 1199-SEIU United Healthcare Workers East union President George Gresham and NAACP leader Hazel Dukes.

The?New York Times reported?on interest groups that are lobbying to win their members a higher-priority designation on the vaccination list, including Uber and the union representing hotel workers.

Cuomo said the vaccines will be given out based on science, not political favoritism.

“There is no politics in the vaccination process,” he said.

Cuomo said he’s decided to wait to get vaccinated himself. Initially, he planned to get the shot publicly to help build public confidence. But he said he’s not in a special category and has no underlying health conditions, so he wants to wait until essential workers get their vaccines.

“I would take it today,” Cuomo said. “But I don’t want the flip side of people saying, ‘Well, that was a vaccine that could have gone to an essential worker.’ ”

There was one bit of good news: Cuomo said he’s allowed a special exemption from New York’s travel quarantine requirement for Santa Claus, giving him the green light to deliver presents to households late Thursday night and early Friday morning. But Cuomo said Santa will have to wear a mask.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.