‘We’re pleased The Global Travel Taskforce has recognised the urgency of the situation,’ says ABTA
The government has launched its new strategy for testing international arrivals, meaning those arriving into England will be able to reduce quarantine by more than a week.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has today announced that from December 15, passengers arriving into England from countries not on the travel corridor list will have the option to take a test after five days of self-isolation, with a negative result meaning they no longer need to self-isolate.
The Department for Transport said the move will give passengers the confidence to book international trips. It added that the NHS Test and Trace testing capacity will be protected, with travellers footing the bill for a Covid-19 test from a private provider on the gov.uk list.
Under the ‘test to release’ strategy, passengers arriving into England by plane, ferry or train should book their test before they travel; must complete a passenger locator form; and will still need to self-isolate for five days before taking a test – rather than taking it at their port of arrival.
Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “We have a plan in place to ensure that our route out of this pandemic is careful and balanced, allowing us to focus on what we can now do to bolster international travel while keeping the public safe. “Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business. By giving people the choice to test on day five, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic.”
Previously Shapps said he was “very hopeful” a new testing regime can be in place by December 1 for arrivals into the UK. At the time it was reported that 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.”
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of ABTA, said: “The ‘test to release’ scheme in England should help to make overseas travel more attractive and manageable for both holidaymakers and business travellers. We know that Foreign Office advice and quarantine requirements are major impediments to travel, and there is an urgent need to remove these barriers as fast as is compatible with the government’s domestic health strategy. The outbound travel industry has been hit early and hard by the pandemic and we hope that test to release will help get people travelling once again.
“Since the start of the pandemic ABTA has strongly argued for having a testing regime to cut quarantine and boost consumer confidence, so we’re pleased The Global Travel Taskforce has recognised the urgency of the situation, and responded. There is still more work to be done to get more people travelling and to support the recovery of the sector, including having a testing scheme in place for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the government moving to a regional approach to quarantine and travel advice. It is important that the test to release scheme is kept under review, to make sure that advancements in testing are used to further reduce quarantine to as short a period as possible.”
The government will also introduce new financial support for English airports and ground handlers serving them. This support, which will shore up jobs and reinforce local economies, will be available to commercial airports in England. The support will address fixed costs and be equivalent to the business rates liabilities of each business, capped at up to £8 million per site, and subject to certain conditions. This scheme will open in the New Year.
The chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “The aviation industry is vital to our economy – creating jobs and driving growth- which is why we have supported them throughout this crisis through the job retention scheme, loans and tax deferrals. “This new package of support for airports, alongside a new testing regime for international arrivals, will help the sector take off once again as we build back better from the pandemic.”
The government said it has considered the evidence which demonstrates that a test after five days of self-isolation provides better results than just a test on arrival. It said it allows time for the virus, should it be present, to incubate helping reduce the risk of a false negative.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Ensuring that safe travel is possible has been a priority for the Global Travel Taskforce. This test on day five of the 14-day self-solation period will identify positive coronavirus cases and allow those who test negative to return to work and see their loved ones while abiding by domestic coronavirus restrictions. This will be done at the cost of the traveller to protect the capacity of NHS Test and Trace and ensure that any UK resident who has symptoms is able to get a test.”
The testing strategy is one outcome of the government’s Global Travel Taskforce report recently presented to the prime minister, which also sets out a pathway to restarting the cruise sector. Recommendations are based on advice from a consortium of representatives from the aviation, maritime, international rail, tourism and hospitality industries.
Last week, it was announced that British Airways and American Airlines are set to introduce Covid-19 testing on some transatlantic flights. The free tests will initially be offered to eligible passengers on selected British Airways flights from New York JFK and Los Angeles flights to Heathrow and American Airlines flights from Dallas/Fort Worth also into Heathrow. It follows a similar move by rivals United.