The UK government has said passengers arriving into England will be able to reduce mandatory self-isolation by up to a week or more by getting themselves tested for COVID-19, a move that is likely to be lauded by the travel industry. The government also announced financial support for airports.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that from 15 December, passengers coming into England from countries not featured on the government’s travel corridor list will have the option to pay for a test from a private provider after five days of self-isolation. If they test negative, they no longer need to isolate.
The government said it considered evidence which shows that a test after five days provides 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.
It said it hopes its new scheme will “give passengers the confidence to book international trips” and made it clear that travellers cannot use the NHS for this purpose.
“With those opting in to the scheme having to book and pay for a COVID-19 test from a private provider on the gov.uk list, we are ensuring the NHS Test and Trace testing capacity is protected,” it said in a statement.
Under the new strategy, called “test to release for international travel,” passengers arriving into England should 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.
Those choosing not to take a test when arriving from a non-exempt country must continue to follow the self-isolation requirement of two weeks.
“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,” said Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps.
“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,” he added.
The government is also introducing financial support for airports and 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 £8m ($10.6m) per site, and subject to certain conditions. This scheme will open in the new year.
Chancellor 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.”
The announcements are likely to be welcomed by the travel industry, which as been hit hard by the pandemic.
Last week, Heathrow Airport launched a new voluntary redundancy scheme, furloughing its entire head office staff with the exception of its chief executive in a bid to slash costs.
Earlier this month, the UK’s Airport Operators Association asked the government for urgent support to help protect airports following the restrictions on international travel announced as a part of the lockdown in England that is meant to end 2 December.
The group said the measures introduced by the government amounted to “the effective closure of aviation, with all airports having to consider what forms of closure they should implement, including restrictions on operating hours through to full closures and further job losses.”
Analysis by the AOA back in July suggested UK airports lost more than £150m a day during the first four months of the pandemic.
Revenue was down just under £2bn in total compared to the previous year, as passenger numbers fell by as much as 99%.
It’s not just airports, but airlines too that are suffering. The owner of British Airways (IAG.L) nosedived to a €6.2bn pre-tax loss for the first nine months of the year, compared with a profit of €2.3bn a year ago, as the pandemic continues to create turbulence in the travel industry.
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