Doubts remain whether testing for Covid at UK borders will be in place by the end of the Brexit transition period.
Baroness Dido Harding, head of NHS Test and Trace, gave no reassurance to the travel industry that border testing will be available at airports before the end of the year.
She also doubted that testing would be the “silver bullet” to fighting the virus.
Harding, executive chair of NHS Test and Trace and interim chair of the newly-announced Health Protection England, was responding to a question from Focus Travel Partnership chief executive Abby Penston.
Penston, head of the business travel consortium for the SME sector, quizzed Harding during a Federation of Small Businesses webinar.
She raised the issue of the government’s new Global Travel Taskforce, asked whether the NHS is involved and how long it will take before testing is rolled out to passengers.
Harding, a former Thomas Cook marketing director, said that NHS Test and Trace was “working very collaboratively with the borders team on testing [on international arrivals]”.
She added: “But the slight rider I would put on that is the science.”
Harding said: “A negative test at a point in time only proves that you are not infectious at that point of time.
“If you have been travelling from a very high risk environment then I would expect that the clinicians will still advise that some kind of quarantine is necessary, so testing will help us, but I doubt it will be a silver bullet to fighting the virus and changing the need for us to be very cautious if people are travelling from very high risk environments.”
Penston said: “It’s desperately disappointing that there is no sense of urgency to get testing up and running at UK borders.
“The UK economy has supposedly set its sights on having a wider global presence by 1 January 2021.
“Business travel, trade and tourism rely on international travel, but it is stagnating while everyone is stuck in quarantine.
“Too much time has been wasted whilst decision makers have failed to acknowledge the importance of business travel, which contributes £220 billion to the UK’s GDP.”
Federation of Small Businesses policy and advocacy chairman Martin McTague said: “I know this is tricky and I know the science makes it hard to give somebody a completely clean bill of health on entry to the country but when you think of how many businesses around the country depend on travel in one way or another, it is vital that we try and free up that entry into the country.
“You only have to walk around central London and see the absence of tourism and the impacts of that on massive swathes of the capital. It is something that we should be pouring a lot more effort into.”
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