A pilot scheme involving airport-based Covid-19 testing followed by a second test within days should be introduced to kick-start transatlantic business travel.
The proposal for the key London-New York route came as the World Travel & Tourism Council described the restoration of ‘air corridors’ between the world’s top financial centres as vital to reviving international business travel and supporting global economic recovery.
The call coincided with more than 400 UK and US businesses lobbying for compulsory Covid testing for travellers 48 hours before departure so they can bypass quarantine and restore business travel.
British American Business (BAB) said the move could shorten quarantine for arrivals in the UK by ten days by having a second test after three or four days, enabling ‘air bridges’ to be opened between the US and UK and other international routes.
Duncan Edwards, chief executive of BAB, which represents major banks, airlines, finance houses and manufacturers with UK and US operations, told The Telegraph: “For people who want to travel for business, the cost of paying for a pre-departure test is irrelevant compared to 14 days isolation or the risk of not going to see their overseas operations.
“That’s why we are arguing for a mandatory test no longer than two days before departure and then a test on arrival, maybe three or four days later depending on what the science recommends.”
A WTTC analysis of Public Health England data suggests two tests in quick succession could be 80% effective in identifying passengers with Covid-19, and thus reduce the quarantine period from 14 to four to six days or no quarantine at all.
But recovery of the £215 billion inbound international business travel sector, particularly on key routes across the Atlantic, will only happen if the government takes a targeted approach, over “blunt country-wide quarantines which have a devastating economic impact,” according to the WTTC.
The WTTC last week revealed that £22 billion – or £60 million a day – could be lost from the UK economy due to the collapse of international travel during 2020.
President and chief executive Gloria Guevara said: “While the recent ‘island policy’ introduced by the UK government marks a step in the right direction with a more targeted approach, WTTC believes a laser-like focus is necessary to reopen key international business routes, which could provide a significant economic boost.
“Flights must be restored along ‘city corridors’ linking cities with similar low Covid-19 case numbers, such as between London and New York, Washington, Paris, Frankfurt, Dubai, Amsterdam, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
“Every time the UK government places another destination on its quarantine list, the economy suffers.
“International business travel is the lifeblood of the global economy contributing more than $272 (£215) billion a year. Therefore, the government should abandon quarantines which don’t work, and focus on more targeted measures like ‘city corridors’.
“The WTTC pilot scheme with its twin test regime, will help reassure corporates that it is safe for their employees to travel and remove the need for unhelpful quarantines.
“We need a concerted international framework at the highest level to introduce comprehensive, rapid and cost-effective testing at airports, with a worldwide accepted standard of contact tracing and widespread use of face masks.
“To continue with the current chaos would be a huge mistake and would cause further severe economic damage and unnecessary hardship to millions around the world.”
The UK is the fourth biggest G20 economy in terms of international travel and tourism spend from business travel, which amounted to $9.5 (£7.5) billion in 2019; 26.5% of the total.
Of the other G20 countries, the US had the highest international business travel spend in 2019, at $47.75 (£37.72) billion. Germany was second with $12.8 (£10.1) billion, China third with $10.7 (£8.45) billion and Russia fifth at $8.6 (£6.8) billion, the WTTC calculates.
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