Britain is making good progress with a plan to allow COVID-19 tests to cut a 14-day quarantine period for those returning from abroad, a change which could help fuel a travel recovery once current lockdowns end, the transport minister said.
Airport bosses welcomed the update from the minister, Grant Shapps, at an online conference but said more needed to be done. The top priority for them is that the government eliminates the requirement for quarantine through testing for the coronavirus.
“We’re making very good progress on a ‘test to release programme’ to launch once we’re out of this lockdown,” Shapps said on Monday. “Once we emerge from the lockdown, we can roll out new systems to help get people flying and travelling again.”
UK airports and airlines said that a shorter quarantine period was even more crucial after a new four-week lockdown imposed in England until Dec. 2 wiped out any of the remaining meagre income they were still making from low levels of travel during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
They have called for extra government help, asking for tax holidays from requirements such as air passenger duty and business rates.
But Shapps said the primary solution to aviation companies’ financial problems would be getting customers flying again, “ideally through the development of an effective vaccine”.
Separately, positive news about a Pfizer vaccine while the conference was being held boosted UK airline shares on Monday, with British Airways owner IAG and easyJet both up 30%.
The chief executive of Gatwick, Britain’s second biggest airport after London’s Heathrow, told the conference that he favoured an antigen test 72 hours before departure as a way to end the need for quarantine.
Shapps said that rapid actual-flow tests for the coronavirus being trialled in Liverpool which give results in less than an hour should be seen as an optimistic development. “Ultimately it could open the way for non-quarantined air travel.”
The government was also working with partner countries to consider pre-departure quarantine and testing options that would end the need for quarantine upon arrival at destination, he said.