Transport secretary announces plans to cut quarantine time in half
Grant Shapps has said he is “very hopeful” a new testing regime can be in place by December 1 for arrivals into the UK.
The move would mean a single test for international arrivals, a week after entering the country – cutting quarantine time in half for those travelling from countries deemed “high-risk.”
While, in July, the government introduced a travel corridors system – a list of countries from which those entering the UK do not need to self-isolate – the majority of destinations have been removed in recent weeks.
“My ministerial colleagues and I have agreed a regime, based on a single test provided by the private sector and at the cost to the passenger, after a period of self-isolation,” he said.
However, the new boss of British Airways said that even if quarantine was reduced to seven days, demand for travel would remain low. He called for a “fundamental rethink”.
“People won’t travel here and the UK will get left behind,” Sean Doyle said, a week after replacing Alex Cruz. “We need to get the economy moving again and this just isn’t possible when you’re asking people to quarantine for 14 days.”
Meanwhile, passengers flying from London Heathrow to Hong Kong will be able to have a rapid Covid-19 test at the airport before checking in. The tests, which must be pre-booked, cost £80 – with results available within the hour.
John Holland-Kaye, the chief executive of Heathrow airport, said: “Many other countries are already using testing to keep their borders safe while restarting trade and travel. These facilities will make it easier for passengers going to those countries to get a test and have the potential to provide a service for arriving passengers.”
In his much-criticised address at last week’s Travel Convention, Shapps did more to downplay hopes of a rigorous testing regime than to promote the idea of one.
At the Convention, Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, spoke at length about its importance. “Without an efficient test, trace track and then isolate [regime] this country will not emerge from this pandemic ahead of a vaccine,” he said. “We started testing all our crews that go to Shanghai and to Bangkok, we’ve now added Barbados as well. It happens at the airport, it’s a 30-minute test without diverting any attention from the NHS, which is super essential.”
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of ABTA, said: “[Shapps] said an awful lot of work had gone in to testing [but] we’ve seen none of the results. We have to hit the ground running if we’re going to move out of this [crisis]. [The government] seems to have just disproved various theories; [now saying that] you can’t do a day zero test on arrival because of asymptomatic cases.”
The transport secretary caused anger when he said that the travel industry had been supported by “unprecedented measures”, but proceeded to list a series of non-industry-specific schemes.
Reminding Shapps that “we are still in the middle of this crisis”, Tanzer called the speech “very retrospective – about what they’ve done and how grateful the industry should be for this. Furlough did save jobs but it’s about what happens over the next six months.”