The government should be investing in Nightingale-style test facilities at UK airports, says Quash Quarantine group
The government is under increased pressure to implement a testing regime at borders amid the “quarantine roulette” caused by changes to the travel corridors list.
In the wake of the Department for Transport removing Spain from its safe list and the change in FCO advice, which was subsequently extended to include the Canary and Balearic Islands, the chief executive of Heathrow has renewed calls for testing.
“As many of our customers have experienced, it’s difficult to plan a holiday that way, let alone run a business. Testing offers a way to safely open up travel and trade to some of the UK’s biggest markets which currently remain closed,” John Holland-Kaye told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
The government has argued that tests, that can produce false negatives, do not guarantee that coronavirus isn’t being brought into the country from abroad.
However, Professor Rowland Kao, professor of veterinary epidemiology and data science at the University of Edinburgh, told the BBC that “test on arrival”, although not perfect, would reduce the risk sufficiently.
“As it stands, we have to be prepared to introduce quarantine or close borders to many countries, and also be prepared for restrictions to be put in place should UK cases start rising again as could very well happen. As an alternative, government could fund a scientifically designed pilot, where individuals are tested at the airport in sufficient numbers and monitored thereafter to determine whether such an approach would work.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of The PC Agency and part of the Quash Quarantine lobby group, said: “If we’re to live with coronavirus for the longer-term, then the government should be investing in Nightingale-style test facilities at UK airports so as to capture any signs of the virus before it enters the country.
“As most UK consumers believe, effective testing and tracing is the solution rather than economically-damaging quarantine measures. Testing may not capture everyone but it will significantly reduce the cases coming into the UK.”
Forty-seven airlines, airports and travel groups have written to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, to demand a more “nuanced” policy, including testing and regional air bridges.
The letter was signed by ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer and chairman Alistair Rowland, of Co-op Midcounties, as well as the heads of British Airways, Tui, EasyJet and Jet2, and Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and Luton airports.
The letter, arranged by Airlines UK, says: “There is a clear way forward, that moves towards a more nuanced approach . . . we are urging the rapid introduction of regional travel corridors. We are in a situation where the government is advising against travel to areas of Spain that have lower rates of Covid than the UK.
“We will collectively continue to work hard on behalf of our customers facing uncertainty and disruption.At the same time, we are calling for the implementation of a structured announcement timeline and, working with the sector, for the publication by government of a strategy for the testing of passengers in the UK, alongside a regionalised approach to travel corridors, as a matter of urgency.
“Without action on this issue the aviation, travel and hospitality sectors will be put under further pressure, and the UK will not see the recovery in connectivity that it will need to support economic recovery and deliver the government’s ambition of becoming an outward facing, global trading nation. We urgently request a meeting with you to discuss the challenge facing our sector and our proposed ways forward.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock has said that the government is considering shortening the length of quarantine, telling the BBC: “We are working on whether by testing people during that quarantine it is safe to then be able to release them earlier.
He said it was not something the government would be “imminently making an announcement on”.