People arriving in the UK from abroad may soon be able to end their 14-day self-isolation sooner, under plans to be considered by a new task force.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the task force will consider introducing a Covid-19 testing system for travelers in the UK.
People should pay for their own tests to avoid impacting the capacity of the NHS.
Airline and airport bosses have reiterated their calls to completely replace quarantine with a comprehensive testing system.
The aviation industry has struggled to cope with the drop in passenger numbers since the outbreak began in the UK, with industry figures repeatedly pushing for tests at ports and airports – what the ministers rejected.
Anyone arriving in the UK from abroad must currently self-isolate for two weeks, unless they are coming from an exempt destination.
Plans for the Global Travel Task Force to consider are to give travelers the option of paying for a coronavirus test within days of arrival.
A negative result would mean that people could end their quarantine period earlier.
The task force will also examine whether people could self-isolate before traveling abroad, rather than upon arrival.
If you ran an airline or owned a travel agency, I don’t think you would jump for joy.
You would probably be relieved that the government has finally done what you are calling months ago and made a more firm commitment to testing, to allow people to avoid quarantine for the full 14 days.
But Heathrow had a facility to take saliva samples from passengers ready to depart in mid-August.
This facility now appears redundant because the government has rejected the scientific rationale for testing passengers at arriving airports – on the grounds that asymptomatic people who have recently caught the virus could still produce negative results.
And while ministers have made their strongest commitment yet to privately funded testing, travel leaders will, to some extent, pull their hair out that key details still don’t. not been resolved.
Namely, after how many days of quarantine could someone pay for a test? Between five and eight days, that’s what the government is considering.
What airlines really want is the ability for people to take a test two or three days before they arrive. With a second test after you arrive in the UK, it could reduce the quarantine even further.
The government has crucially indicated that it is ready to explore this idea. But aviation bosses just want ministers to agree – the creation of a task force was not the announcement they wanted on Wednesday.
Announcing the plans, Mr Shapps said: “The current border measures have saved lives. Our understanding of the science now means that we can step up efforts to develop options for a test diet and help reinvigorate our premier travel industry.
“This new task force will not only help us move towards safer and smoother international travel as we continue to fight this virus, but will also support global connectivity – helping to facilitate more secure travel by Covid while protecting the population from imported cases. ”
Mr Shapps and Secretary of Health Matt Hancock will lead the task force to review:
- How a testing regime for international arrivals could be implemented, including exactly when passengers would be tested
- How to increase consumer confidence to support the recovery of international travel
- What “innovative test models and other non-testing means” could boost travel
The group is expected to report to No.10 in November.
Officials from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will all be involved in the work of the working group. But since health matters are decentralized, decision making and implementation may differ from country to country.
While industry figures called the announcement “a step in the right direction,” many also reiterated their belief that a testing program should completely replace quarantine.
A British Airways spokesperson added: “While every step to improve the current situation is welcome, we don’t believe quarantine is the solution. The best way to reassure people is to introduce a reliable and affordable test before flying. ”
Karen Dee, Managing Director of the Airport Operators Association – a trade association for UK airports – said: “We believe that from a health point of view a testing diet may be far better than just quarantining . ”
And a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said: “The removal of the quarantine is the only way to really open the skies and allow the UK’s economic recovery to take off.”
An air trade body has said testing people before they travel – an idea known as ‘pre-departure testing’ – is becoming the ‘international standard’ and should be adopted in the UK as ‘as soon as possible’.
“Aviation is at a critical juncture and we have no time to waste,” added Airies UK Managing Director Tim Alderslade.
Many industry figures have also called on the task force to make changes – rather than just recommendations – within weeks.
A joint statement from the CEOs of Easyjet, Heathrow, Manchester Airports Group (MAG) and Virgin Atlantic said that a testing regime must be in place by early November because without “quick” action, “the UK will fall even further behind our competitors and the economic recovery will fail to start.
Nearly 900 jobs are at risk at MAG’s three UK airports – Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands Airport – after the pandemic has resulted in “the most difficult summer ever”.
Shadow Transportation Secretary Jim McMahon said the government had been “incompetently slow to respond”.
“They have had months to set up a task force, months to review airport tests and months to sort out flaws in their quarantine proposals,” the Labor MP added.
He also called for a financial support program for the aviation sector.
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