The UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has downplayed the benefits of introducing Covid-19 testing at airports including London Heathrow, citing the lengthy quarantine period that would still be required.
In comments likely to come as a blow to the travel industry, Shapps said that while the government keeps coronavirus restrictions under review and is working with airports, the testing of travelers is “complicated” by the need for a second medical check a week or eight days later to ensure accuracy.
“In between time, guess what? You would need to quarantine,” Shapps told BBC Radio 4 on Friday when asked whether airport testing could replace the UK requirement for travelers to self-isolate for two weeks. “So you’re not removing quarantine entirely.”
Even using the tests to try to shorten the isolation period could be problematic, Shapps told Sky News in a separate interview, because there would need to be systems in place to ensure authorities are “testing the right person on that second time round.”
Carriers including British Airways and EasyJet are pressing Britain to drop a self-isolation requirement they say is destroying demand in major markets like the US. and key tourism destinations such as France and Spain.
Heathrow to trial pre-flight testing
Heathrow, usually Europe’s busiest airport, said in July it wanted to trial a testing procedure that could allow the quarantine period to be reduced.
London’s Heathrow airport plans to conduct trials of a coronavirus testing procedure that could allow the scrapping of quarantine rules for people arriving from territories including the US.
The pilot program would be offered as a private service, with swabs taken by nurses from Collinson Group at a facility run by ground-handling firm Swissport. Passengers would go on to their place of quarantine with the results made available within 24 hours.
The PCR or Polymerase Chain Reaction tests would cost about £150 pounds and are recognized as effective by Britain’s National Health Service, according to a Heathrow spokesman.
Britain recently announced the lifting of the 14-day self isolation rule for passengers arriving from 74 territories including most of Europe and long-haul locations including Australia, Japan and Hong Kong. Countries which continue to have a high incidence of Covid-19 cases were excluded, the US among them.
“The government made a significant step forward by removing quarantine for visitors from many countries, but we still need a solution that safely allows passengers to travel to and from higher risk countries,” Heathrow Chief Executive Officer John Holland-Kaye said in a statement.
“We appreciate that there issues to work out but that is why we are trying to do a trial,” Heathrow spokesman Weston Macklem said in an interview. “Even if we could cut it to eight days that would be better than now.”
Germany, Iceland and Singapore are among countries already employing a similar system, Macklem said.
The gap between tests couldn’t be reduced to less than five days, regarded as the incubation period for the disease, Macklem said, though in future people might be able to have the first check three days before flying, requiring only two days of quarantine on arrival in Britain before the second one.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said this week the government is working on introducing tests at ports and airports, though he declined to set a time-frame.
Transport Secretary Shapps said that while he’s not telling airports testing won’t work, he doesn’t want to offer “false hope by saying it’s just as simple as a test at the airport,” because that “won’t tell you what you need to know.”
Ryanair, which counts London Stansted as its biggest base, repeated calls for the UK quarantine policy to be dropped, saying in an email that it’s ineffective and should be replaced by a “more coherent and science-based approach” including airport testing and contact tracing.
The International Air Transport Association has cited a passenger survey as indicating that the UK quarantine is as off-putting for would-be travelers as the pandemic itself. Airlines and leisure firms serving Britain have said the restrictions have prevented them from making the best of the disrupted summer season as lockdowns ease.
This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media: the original article can be viewed here