Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said “good progress” in being made in developing a testing programme which will reduce the current requirement for international arrivals into the UK to quarantine for two-weeks.

Under current guidelines, people arriving into the UK from countries without a travel corridor are required to self-isolate for 14 days to slow the spread of COVID-19. Shapps is also co-chairman of the Government’s Global Travel Taskforce which was set up last month to discuss measures to support the sector.

“Test and release” update given at AOA conference

Shapps gave the update on the “test and release” programme in a speech to the annual conference of the Airport Operators Association (AOA) yesterday. He said the regime could lead to a significant reduction in the self-isolation period.

He said: “I want you to know that we’ve been making very good progress on a test to release programme, to launch once we’re out of this lockdown.”

Shapps added that the launch date for the programme was likely to enable travel before Christmas, after the current lockdown period ends. Current restrictions in place ban travel within the UK or abroad with the exception of essential purposes until the lockdown is lifted, which has previously been announced as December 2.

Shapps added:”Beyond the lockdown, this should encourage many more people to book flights with confidence knowing there is an option that allows them to shorten self isolation.”

No announcement on testing costs

Airline bosses including Michael O’Leary of Ryanair and Sean Doyle of British Airways have repeatedly called for the two-week quarantine requirements for international arrivals to be replaced with testing regimes. Testing would be paid for by passengers arriving in the UK. The Department for Transport has issued no announcement on how much the tests would cost but some insiders have suggested it could be up to £150. London Heathrow Airport recently launched a rapid coronavirus test service for passengers flying to Hong Kong and Italy with pre-departure testing costing around £80 per passenger.

Liverpool city testing could “open way” for quarantine-free travel

Shapps also suggested that a mass antigen testing programme launched in Liverpool last week and being widened to other parts of the country would give “hope for optimism” and “open the way” for the possibility of quarantine-free travel. The programme is the first trial of whole-city testing in England with all residents over the age of 11 being offered regular COVID-19 tests, whether or not they have symptoms of the virus. The pilot scheme includes a mix of the existing swab tests and new lateral flow tests which provide a result within an hour without the need to use a lab.

Shapps said the government was working with other countries to help establish an “international standard” for self-isolation and testing to be carried out before travelling to and from the UK, to stop passengers having to quarantine on arrival in their destination country.

* Developers Pfizer and BioNTech described the announcement yesterday of the first effective coronavirus vaccine which could prevent more than 90 per cent of people from getting COVID-19 as a “great day for science and humanity.”

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