A Covid-19 testing regime for travellers can be up and running quickly if the government gives the go-ahead to ease quarantine restrictions, say industry leaders.
Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said: “There are a number of airports ready to go with pilot schemes. Heathrow has had trials with its own staff and would love to get trials going with passengers. Most of the industry would be ready to go in a pretty short time.”
The industry continued to await a government response to various testing proposals this week after ministers resisted repeated demands from MPs to make a decision last week.
The government reimposed quarantine restrictions on mainland Portugal from Saturday morning, along with Hungary, although Madeira and the Azores remained open to UK travellers thanks to the ‘island corridors’ policy adopted last week. Restrictions on Sweden were relaxed.
Dee told a Travel Weekly Future of Travel summit: “The government consistently says it’s following medical advice, so let’s have the medical adviser tell us the framework [for testing]. The benefit of trials would be data. [But] there has to be a reduction in quarantine. You’re not going to pay for a test if you don’t get anything for it.”
Dale Keller, chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives (BAR UK), agreed: “We don’t see any mechanism apart from testing to reopen borders and reduce quarantine.”
BAR UK and Airlines UK have proposed the government adopt a redesigned ‘traffic-light’ system of travel corridor classification similar to that advocated by the EU. Keller said: “Transport secretary Grant Shapps promoted a traffic-light system at the outset of the travel corridors policy but the government never broadcast what ‘green’, ‘amber’ and ‘red’ look like. We’ve said ‘re-purpose that’ – ‘green’ is a travel corridor, ’red’ a high-risk country and ‘amber’ for markets just beyond the travel corridor threshold.”
Germany announced last week it would introduce a similar system from October.
Iata UK and Ireland country manager Simon McNamara told the summit: “Germany introduced a testing regime almost overnight. There seems no reason why we can’t do the same. Could we just have a testing regime of some sort as soon as possible?”
Dee said: “There are going to be some challenges for airports depending on their configuration and size. But once the decision is taken, we’re excellent as an industry at operational challenges.
“There are a large number of airports already hosting testing regimes for the NHS. What is important is we get a testing regime in place, whether pre-departure, on arrival or a combination.”
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren told the summit: “The UK has been slow on testing. We have to get on – whether that is a single point of testing or two. We don’t have the luxury to pick and choose.”
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