London Stock Exchange listed airline and travel company share prices rose yesterday on the first official public admission that two-week quarantines on returning travellers could be replaced by airport Covid-19 testing.
Health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed that the government was discussing whether a testing system could be introduced.
One option reportedly being considered is for travellers to be tested five to ten days after arriving in the UK. That would allow them to cut short their quarantine period if the test results came back negative.
Hancock told Sky News: “We are working with Heathrow and other airports on this project. I hope this project can bear fruit.
“The challenge is how to do that testing in a way that we can have confidence enough to release the quarantine.”
On the back of his comments, IAG, owner of Heathrow-based British Airways, gained 14¼p, or 7.6%, to 201p. Easyjet climbed 18½p, or 3.3%, to 575p; budget rival Wizz Air gained 110p, or 3.2%, to £35.94; and Jet2 parent Dart Group improved by 31½p, or 5%, to 659½p.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye has told prime minister Boris Johnson to “get a grip of our border policy” or risk thousands of travel industry jobs and “holding back the recovery of the UK economy”.
Testing of all overseas arrivals at Scottish airports should be mandatory in order to rescue the travel industry which faces being wiped out, according to the Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association.
President Jane Dooey said: “We understand that there is a cost associated with testing. However, the cost to the UK and Scottish governments of the failure of the travel sector in Scotland with the associated job losses would utterly dwarf the investment in airport testing.
“It seems paradoxical that the majority of drive-through Covid-19 testing centres in Scotland [4 out of 6] are based at Airports [Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Prestwick] but there is no passenger testing at these locations.”
But aviation sources have said that ministers are unlikely to endorse any scheme until next month at the earliest, even though airport tests are already employed in at least 30 countries including Germany.
Existing rules mean that anyone coming from ‘high risk’ countries, including Spain and France, have to self-isolate for 14 days.
A recent survey by the Office for National Statistics found that almost two thirds of Britons were “very unlikely” to go abroad if they have to self-isolate for two weeks upon their return.
Exemption list update
However, there could be further mixed news for the travel sector today as ministers prepare assess the risk from countries on the quarantine exemption list with suggestions that a spike in cases in Croatia could see it being removed.
Portugal, which has been excluded from the list of quarantine-free countries since the start of July, was reported by The Telegraph to be on the verge of returning with a final decision expected later on Thursday with a possible a four- or five-day delay before the restriction is lifted.
Croatia’s National Tourist Board insisted that it “continues to be a safe tourist destination”.
The Croatian government has imposed a ban on bars and nightclubs opening after midnight, and restrictions on working indoors and on the use of dance floors other than for socially-distanced dining tables.
As reported by Travel Weekly on Wednesday, tourist board general director Kristjan Stanicic said: “The whole of tourism industry in Croatia is behaving responsibly and adhering to the prescribed epidemiological measures.”
But Paul Charles, chief executive of the PC Agency travel consultancy, said: “I think Croatia realised its case numbers were rising sharply so cannot be surprised. It’s another country on the quarantine list which is not good for the UK economy.
“It means people returning will have to quarantine which means they cannot work.
“Half of the country cannot work from home. It is why testing of arrivals to the UK for coronavirus is needed to allow quarantine-free travel for those who prove to be negative for the disease.”
The news came as Croatia, along with Ecuador and Ghana, became the latest in a line of destinations to use the World Travel & Tourism Council’s global safety and hygiene stamp.
Meanwhile, Portsmouth port director Mike Sellers urged the government to introduce fast track testing at ports and airports “to avoid the uncertainty in travel conditions”.
He said: “Cruise has ground to a halt, with crew repatriation the priority. We hope cruise travel can return soon, but it is difficult to say with confidence when that’s going be. It’s incredibly hard for the industry at the moment to plan, when the situation is changing reactively.
“Our ferry customers are suffering significantly too. Trying to run sailings with reduced capacity, coupled with quarantine restrictions, understandably means having to re evaluate how they operate. If passengers aren’t travelling then the options are limited.”
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