Travel industry and political momentum is mounting on government to overhaul its “chaotic” travel quarantine policy in favour of Covid testing at airports.
Tui UK & Ireland managing director Andrew Flintham today warned ministers that many travel companies will not survive through the winter without “sensible solutions”.
Testing offers a viable alternative to quarantine and would help open travel to more key destinations, he argued.
His call came as the heads of the UK’s 20 biggest airports, including Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Luton, called on Boris Johnson to give the go ahead to testing as one of a series of measures to prevent the loss of up to 110,000 aviation and allied industry jobs.
This came amid speculation that regional travel corridors to low risk areas could be on the verge of being sanctioned by Westminster.
The 20 airport bosses set the prime minister a seven-day deadline to act on testing and regional travel corridors.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds called on his Conservative counterpart Priti Patel for a “rapid review to fix chaotic quarantine arrangements” and said that the government’s handling of people coming to the UK has “lacked urgency, coherence and clarity from the outset”.
Thomas-Symonds highlighted in his letter that transport secretary Grant Shapps has said that it “may be possible to bring the quarantine period down to seven, eight or ten days” with the right kind of system in place.
The Labour MP added: “The continued uncertainty is damaging public confidence and putting whole sectors of the economy at risk.
“Furthermore, there have been serious concerns raised about the monitoring of compliance with the quarantine restrictions that are in place. There are reports that less than a third of passenger locator forms are checked, with a non-compliance rate of around 10%. The effectiveness of this regime should also be part of the review, to try and build confidence in the arrangements.
“The government’s handling of arrivals into the UK has lacked urgency, coherence and clarity from the outset. Including being too slow to implement controls at the onset of the crisis.
“It’s also clear that the impact on the travel sector, as with other badly-hit parts of our economy, is so significant that your government must abandon its one-size-fits-all withdrawal of income support without delay.”
Flintham, writing in The Telegraph, said: “Critically, for testing to make a real difference it must be universally available and the government should be investing in embedding the technology and kick-starting this process as soon as possible.
“This would be a massive step forward, but we also need to be more data driven and look at regional specific statistics rather than taking a blanket approach.
“I personally think the Welsh government approach was along the right lines this week and it was a first step towards a nuanced regional approach.
“As the only airline operating between Cardiff and Zakynthos we saw how regionalised data can help drive targeted decision making.
“And it made sense. They saw that young people had returned back from the island and subsequently tested positive for Covid-19. However, due to the lack of airport testing these asymptotic youngsters were able to go about their normal lives for nearly a week before testing took place.
“The island of Zakynthos is now on the Welsh government’s quarantine list along with five others, whereas other low risk islands are not.
“Crucially by working with Public Health officials, we were then able to understand where customers had stayed. They were all in a particular area of the island, popular for those wanting to enjoy a lively nightlife.
“As a result, we took the responsible decision to suspend all Tui UK holidays to that specific resort in Zakynthos and another in Crete.
“We weren’t told to do this; we just knew it was the right thing to do based on the information shared with us. It also was for the health and safety of those enjoying other resorts safely on those islands.”
Flintham added: “Tens of thousands of jobs are at risk. This government want to get people back to work – but what happens what there’s no work for people to come back to.
“The government has to help our sector before it is too late and we are left with the embers of an industry that once shone brightly on the world stage. We need positive and proactive action now.”
The government has promised a new aviation strategy in the autumn, including reforming how airlines are allocated slots and consulting on aviation tax changes such as Air Passenger Duty.
A government spokesman said assessment of how testing might help was ongoing.
“Any potential change to the testing for arrivals would need to be robust in minimising the chance that positive cases are missed,” he told the BBC.
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