Air passengers are being forced to pay for Covid tests even before the government introduces a coronavirus-testing regime at travellers’ expense.

That is according to crisis management expert and private health consultant Dr Charlie Easmon, who told an Abta Travel Convention workshop: “A lot of people are requested by airlines, at relatively short notice, to show they’ve had a negative Covid test.

“Airlines don’t accept NHS tests because they don’t come with any form of certification, so people are forced into private testing.”

He said: “Testing 48 or 72 hours before a flight can be a challenge. If the flight is on a Monday, it can be almost impossible because testing labs are not open on Sunday.”

Transport secretary Grant Shapps told the Travel Convention yesterday that the government’s Global Travel Taskforce, announced last week, would work “to implement a new test and release system which will mean a single test about a week after arrival”.

He made clear the test would be “at the cost of the passenger”. The price of tests trialled at Heathrow is £150.

Easmon described the prospect of rapid testing as “exciting”, but said: “The challenge is government regulation. That is a roadblock at the moment.

“Virgin Atlantic has taken on a test that gives a result on saliva in 30 minutes. They’re using it on staff. I would be perfectly happy to use it, but it’s not approved for other people.”

Easmon noted “the growing number of people with ‘long Covid’” and argued: “People who say we should just let everyone become infected are really saying ‘Some of you will die and some of you will become chronically ill’. That is not acceptable.”

He advised: “Work on this being with us at least a year. Maintain social distancing. Use face masks and hand sanitiser.

“If you’re going to allow people not to wear masks, risk-assess that. If I was on an aircraft with someone behind me without a face mask, I would be unhappy. You may need to separate people without face masks.”

Dr Vanessa Field, deputy director of the National Travel Health Network (NaTHNac), said: “There is still a lot we don’t know about the virus.

“We don’t know how much children transmit [Covid-19]. We’re not sure why some people develop worse symptoms. We still don’t know what an immune response means and how long it lasts, or how near we are to a vaccine.”

She urged companies to emphasise travel health and risk assessments before travel.

James Dalton, director of general insurance policy at the Association of British Insurers (ABI), told the workshop: “No country in the world offers widespread pandemic insurance cover. The reason is the costs are immense.

“The best thing firms can do is understand their risks and seek to mitigate them. That might mean putting measures in place to assess and document risks. It might mean speaking to your insurer.”

He noted travel insurance policies “increasingly have Covid-exclusion clauses written into them” and said: “Travel insurance is ultimately emergency medical treatment insurance. A lot of people think it’s for ‘What if I lose my suitcase’, but what is important is insurance for emergency medical treatment.”