The UK will introduce a single Covid test for UK arrivals at the end of a mandatory period of quarantine for those entering the country from high risk destinations, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed.
Speaking at the ABTA Travel Convention, which took place today online, Mr Shapps confirmed the test would be paid for by the traveller. Tests currently cost around £135 to £175.
Under the government’s test-and-release proposal, arrivals from countries not on the government’s travel corridor list won’t be tested when they land in the UK, instead they’ll still have to quarantine for two weeks but they’ll have the option of an early release if they test negative, possibly at the end of seven days.
If the test is positive, they’ll have to quarantine for a total of 14 days, as they do at the moment.
A Global Travel Taskforce launched last week and led by Mr Shapps and Health Secretary Matt Hanckok is considering the proposal and is expected to report back to the government next month. “We already know it will be a single test. We are working very proactively to get this in place,” he said.
Mr Shapps said the government was also working on pre-departure testing, which he described as a ‘trail blazer’. He said it was discussing with other countries the possibility of self-isolation pre-departure.
“The main thing is we are looking at all options,” he added.
While the proposal for one test after seven days in isolation for UK arrivals from high risk countries would halve the existing quarantine period, it doesn’t go as far as some people in the travel industry had hoped for.
Some have been pushing the government to introduce an Iceland-style two test system, with the first on arrival and the second after just five days in quarantine.
Mr Shapps said the government had ruled out immediate testing on arrival, claiming scientific evidence showed this would catch only 7% of asymptomatic cases.
However, Mr Shapps’ comments that the government had decided against airport testing appeared to contradict those of the head of the government’s Test & Trace system, Baroness Harding, who said claimed earlier this week that it was ‘working very collaboratively with the borders team on testing’.
Dido Harding, a former Thomas Cook exec, told the Federation of Small Business webinair that airport ‘testing will help us’ but added that ‘some kind of quarantine’ would still be necessary.
However, Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss later told the conference that the airline had already detected two crew members with asymptomatic Covid since it began pre-flight airport testing two weeks ago for crew flying to Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Virgin is using the rapid FRANKD swab test at London Heathrow, which it claims provides results in just 30 minutes. It is planning to roll out testing to crew on other flights.
World Travel & Tourism Council President and CEO Gloria Guevara told the conference that rapid pre-departure testing was crucial if travel and tourism industry is to avoid a U-shaped recovery, which happened after 9/11, and instead enjoy a V-shaped resurgence, as it did after the 2008 financial crash, which took only 18 months.
“We need to have a quick, low cost test which will give you the result hopefully in less than 30 minutes,” she said. “Then you will know that someone on the plane with you doesn’t have Covid.
“We need to remove quarantines. These shouldn’t only be for people who test positive.”
Gloria told the conference that countries mustn’t repeat the mistakes they made after 9/11, all introducing different screening procedures; instead she said they must work together to introduce similar protocols.
However, ABTA Chief Executive Mark Tanzer said that wasn’t happening at the moment, with each country ‘looking after themselves’.