Aviation associations have welcomed Government plans for a new “test and release” scheme, enabling passengers arriving into England from locations without a travel corridor to cut their quarantine period from 14 days to five days.

Travellers will have to book their tests through a government approved private provider listed by Gov.uk, with those testing negative for COVID-19 able to shorten their isolation period. The measures start on December 15.

Travel strategy released with financial support scheme for airports

Under the government’s ‘Test to release for international travel’ strategy, passengers arriving into England by plane, ferry or train will have to book their test before they travel; must complete a passenger locator form and will still need to self-isolate for five days before taking a test – rather than taking it at their port of arrival.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, said: “We have a plan in place to ensure that our route out of this pandemic is careful and balanced, allowing us to focus on what we can now do to bolster international travel while keeping the public safe.

“Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business. By giving people the choice to test on day five, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic.”

The ‘Test to Release’ scheme was announced along with a new financial support scheme for English commercial airports and the ground handlers serving them. The support will address fixed costs and be equivalent to the business rates liabilities of each business, capped at up to £8 million per site, and subject to certain conditions. This scheme will open in the New Year.

New measures will “restore consumer confidence and protect jobs”

ADS Chief Executive Paul Everitt welcomed the move. He said the current restrictions were having a detrimental effect on manufacturing: “Giving travellers the chance to reduce quarantine from two weeks to five days from mid-December is a significant step towards the restart and recovery of UK aviation and aerospace.”

“Strict restrictions on travel have seriously impacted UK aerospace manufacturing. These measures will help restore consumer confidence and protect the many thousands of high-value jobs now at risk. The Government must build on the test and release scheme to create, with our international partners, a more resilient approach to travel corridors. This will ensure further changes in domestic arrangements do not undermine consumer confidence and industry recovery plans.”

Quarantine policy has “crippled UK aviation industry”

BALPA, the British Air Line Pilots Association, also welcomed the move but added that the government needed to do more to boost customer confidence and rebuild the industry.

General Secretary Brian Strutton said: “At long last the Government is starting to unwind the policies that have crippled the UK aviation industry but it is not enough and further urgent action is necessary. Confirmation of the lifting of the ban on international leisure travel, introducing the option of a shorter quarantine period and direct financial support for airports is a hat-trick of welcome news.”

“But it is vital that more is done urgently to give customers the confidence to book holidays for next year and businesses the confidence that UK aviation can cope post-Brexit in 38 days time. Critically, Government should firstly set a date when it aims to replace quarantining with airport testing so that everyone can plan towards that and secondly Government should support the operational and skills infrastructure that will be needed for aviation to recover.”

Support aimed at helping aviation sector “take off again” – Sunak

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said: “The aviation industry is vital to our economy – creating jobs and driving growth- which is why we have supported them throughout this crisis through the job retention scheme, loans and tax deferrals. This new package of support for airports, alongside a new testing regime for international arrivals, will help the sector take off once again as we build back better from the pandemic.”

The Government has considered the evidence which demonstrates that a test after five days of self-isolation provides materially better results than just having a test on arrival, as it allows time for the virus, should it be present, to incubate helping reduce the risk of a false negative result.

Many countries have not implemented border testing regimes border. Germany and Iceland both initially rolled out schemes involving a single test on arrival and no self-isolation – but have subsequently revised their approaches due to testing capacity and levels of imported cases, and now require tests to be taken after five or six days of isolation.

Since June all travellers arriving in the UK from outside of areas covered by a travel corridor have had to enter a 14-day quarantine period. Both airlines and tour operators had been calling on the government to implement testing procedures for international arrivals instead of blanket quarantine measures for the past few months. The second national lockdown will end on December 2.

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