Unions have called for a “more widespread and cheaper” airport testing regime in the UK, and for the government’s Global Travel Taskforce to roll-out the regime sooner than currently planned.

Calls followed transport secretary Grant Shapps’ indication that he was hopeful the current 14-day self-isolation required for most UK arrivals could be almost halved by the beginning of December – but that the timescale was down to private firms.

Pilots union Balpa welcomed the “step forward” on airport Covid-19 testing, including the introduction of rapid testing at Heathrow, but says the scheme needs to be “more widespread and cheaper”.

It said, for the greatest impact, testing needs to be available to all travellers at all airports and be part of a wider system to replace quarantine.

General secretary Brian Strutton said: “It’s a step forward, but we still have miles to go. The travelling public need a comprehensive, easy to understand system to replace the chaotic, everchanging, confusing travel corridors and quarantine systems.

“The tests also need to be cheaper if we want to see a widespread uptake amongst business and leisure passengers.”

Strutton said progress so far “has been far too slow” noting that travel “remains acutely impacted by coronavirus” and “needs help now”.

“Balpa urges the government to act swiftly to support aviation by backing the rollout of a proper, fully comprehensive airport testing scheme,” he added.

TSSA general secretary, Manuel Cortes, also urged the government act quicker.

He said: “Waiting another six weeks before we see a change in the quarantine regime is yet more dither and delay from this government, which is fond of promising jam tomorrow.

“We need action now to kickstart our travel sector which has been so badly hit by this pandemic. This must go well beyond a system which reduces testing or any self-isolation period.

“Our union welcomes anything which might provide travellers with clarity while at the same time assisting public confidence. However, we already know that far too many travel businesses have gone to the wall and many of our members have lost their jobs.

“What’s needed now is proper long-term support to tackle this crisis head on.”