Transport secretary Grant Shapps is considering plans to reduce the quarantine period for international arrivals to the UK currently in place to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
A report in the Guardian said that Shapps has indicated new plans to cut the 14-day quarantine period for arrivals, with more details forthcoming over the coming days. The move follows lobbying by the aviation sector for a two-test system aimed at cutting the quarantine requirement by testing passengers from high-risk countries on arrival and then again five to eight days later. Passengers with two negative tests would be allowed to exit the 14-day quarantine requirement early. A COVID-19 testing station has already been set up at Heathrow’s Terminal 2.
Single test and shorter quarantine a possibility
The Guardian has reported that the government is considering overlooking airport testing, instead opting for a single test for travellers following a period of isolation which is shorter than the current requirement to isolate for two weeks. Other options include different type of two-test approach which would see international passengers tested from the country they are departing from and again several days after their arrival in the UK.
A statement by the Department for Transport added: “Work is ongoing with clinicians and health experts on the practicalities of using testing to reduce the self-isolation period for international arrivals. The secretary of state has made clear there will be an announcement on this shortly.”
Stephen Barclay, Chief Secretary to the Treasury said he was expecting further detail on the issue to come from both Shapps and health secretary, Matt Hancock, in the next week.
Asymptomatic cases complicate accuracy of airport testing
Shapps has stressed that quarantine would still be required for travellers arriving from countries outside of the travel corridor but indicated that testing could be used to limit the isolation period required. The Guardian reports that the transport secretary has said any plans for airport arrival testing would be complicated by asymptomatic cases.
Shapps is reported speaking on the issue at the Tory Conference on Sunday. He said: “The next stage is to enable testing, which people sometimes wrongly think is a very straightforward thing – ‘Why don’t you just test people at the airport? If you know they’re clear, let people in, job done,’”
“The answer is that in someone who is asymptomatic, not displaying any symptoms, that won’t find a very large proportion of cases. In fact the studies show that if you check somebody on the first day that they arrive, you will probably just find 7 per cent of people who actually do have the virus.
“So we have got to be a bit smarter than that. The way to do that is to still have a period of quarantine but also test and be able to release people. I will be saying more about that shortly.”
In an earlier interview, Shapps told the i newspaper that testing for international arrivals must be done privately. “If you are a holidaymaker you don’t want to be taking up an NHS test because you have flown somewhere, which is a discretionary thing to do.”
“Anything that we do with testing at airports or testing a week later must be done through private capacity.”