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The US has become the latest country to announce that all air passengers entering its borders must show evidence of a negative Covid-19 test.

As Antigua and Barbuda’s biggest tourism source market, the move is unwelcome news for the twin island nation’s economic mainstay.

It comes just days after the UK and Canada – which account for Antigua and Barbuda’s second and third largest source markets respectively – announced similar requirements.

The US directive – effective January 26 – came from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday.

“Testing before and after travel is a critical layer to slow the introduction and spread of Covid-19,” a statement on the CDC website said. “This strategy is consistent with the current phase of the pandemic and more efficiently protects the health of Americans.”

The CDC warns that new variants of the virus continue to emerge in countries worldwide, along with evidence of increased transmissibility of some of them.

Airline passengers entering the US must show a negative viral test, with samples taken no more than three days before their scheduled flight. The rule applies to US citizens as well as visitors, with only airline crew, federal law enforcement and a handful of other people granted exemptions.

“Testing does not eliminate all risk,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield MD, “but when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations.”

From January 21, travellers leaving Antigua and Barbuda for the UK will also have to show negative PCR coronavirus test results before gaining entry.

Operators have been given the right to refuse boarding for passengers without relevant documentation. Violators risk a hefty fine of £500 (EC$1842). The rule applies to most countries in the world, some of which will be subject to this policy as early as 4am this Friday.

The UK government said the measure is to safeguard public health in the face of a concerning increase in new variants of Covid-19 circulating internationally.

But the move has caused dismay in Antigua and Barbuda with some travellers reporting difficulty meeting the strict 72-hour turnaround timeframe due to local lab opening hours.

As of January 7, the Canadian government also required all air passengers aged five years and older to test negative for Covid-19 before travel. That test must also be a PCR and be undertaken no more than 72 hours before departure to Canada.