Delta launches the first quarantine-free travel from the US to Europe, thanks to a new testing program that reduces infection chances on a flight to '1 in a million'

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  • Delta is trialing a new testing program that will allow passengers to travel to Europe without quarantine.
  • The airline is piloting the scheme on flights between Rome and Atlanta from December alongside Italian airline Alitalia.
  • Passengers will have to take two COVID-19 tests before boarding the plane in the US, and another one upon arrival in Italy.
  • If the Delta flights are 60% full and the tests are combined with other protective measures, the risk of COVID-19 infection “should be nearly one in a million,” the Mayo Clinic said.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Delta Air Lines will allow passengers to skip one of the major hurdles associated with travel to Europe during the pandemic – quarantine – because of a new testing program it is launching on flights between Rome and Atlanta, Georgia.

From December 19, US citizens who are permitted to travel to Italy for essential reasons, including for work, health and education, as well as all EU and Italian citizens flying from the US, won’t have to quarantine when they arrive in the country if they take part in the program, it announced Thursday. 

To board the flights, operated by both Delta and Italian airline Alitalia, passengers must produce a negative COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken up to 72 hours before departure, alongside a rapid test administered at the airport in Atlanta before boarding.

Upon arrival in Rome, they will have to take a second rapid test.

To return to Atlanta, passengers will also need to take a rapid test at the airport in Rome.

They will need to provide details to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s contact-tracing protocols, the airline said.

Video: International travelers may soon be required to get COVID-19 vaccination before flying (USA TODAY)

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The program is pending an upcoming decree that Delta expects the Italian government to issue.

It applies to flights between Aeroporti di Roma in Rome, Italy and Georgia’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Read more: There are 12 coronavirus tests you can use from home. Here’s how they work and where to order one.

Advisors from the Mayo Clinic have reviewed Delta’s testing program. When the testing protocols are combined with other protective measures including mask requirements, proper social distancing, and environmental cleaning, “we can predict that the risk of COVID-19 infection – on a flight that is 60% full – should be nearly one in a million,” Henry Ting, chief value officer at the Mayo Clinic, said.

“Carefully designed COVID-19 testing protocols are the best path for resuming international travel safely and without quarantine until vaccinations are widely in place,” Steve Sear, president of Delta’s international operations, said.

This week, five other airlines, including Virgin Atlantic and United Airlines, announced that they would roll out shared digital health passes to prove negative COVID-19 tests in December.

The CommonPass shows the results of passengers’ COVID-19 tests, and is designed as an international standard. In the future, it could also be used to record vaccination results.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the White House was considering lifting its restrictions on inbound travel to the US from most of Europe, per five US government and airline officials.

The US barred most travelers from Europe in March, and shortly afterwards Europe restricted entry from the US.

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