Grant Shapps refuses demands for coronavirus airport testing on arrival

Simon Calder
·3-min read
Test failure: the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, says testing for coronavirus on arrival at airports such as Heathrow would not work (Simon Calder)
Test failure: the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, says testing for coronavirus on arrival at airports such as Heathrow would not work (Simon Calder)

The transport secretary has rejected travel industry requests for airport testing on arrival as an alternative to two weeks of self-isolation.

Grant Shapps said: "We know for certain if you are going to test people on day zero it won’t help.”

He cited widely disputed research that asserts that only 7 per cent of asymptomatic travellers will be picked up.

Germany, Italy and the island of Jersey all use testing on arrival.

Mr Shapps, who was speaking at the virtual online convention for Abta, the travel association, said: “The chief medical officer has been clear it would not capture sufficient information on those who are asymptomatic.”

But the transport secretary said that a test “after about a week,” at the passenger’s expense, would allow travellers to leave quarantine earlier.

Six months after calls for airport testing began, the government has set up a Global Travel Taskforce that will report in November.

Mr Shapps also said that self-isolation before departure to the UK could become an alternative to quarantine.

“We’re also working to see if self-isolation can take place before departure. I believe this will result in significantly more people flying in the months ahead.

“Britain will be in the lead.”

Mr Shapps was speaking after Abta released figures showing the “devastation” that had befallen the travel industry.

Between February and July 2019, almost two-thirds of British people took a foreign holiday. But in the same spell this year, the proportion fell from 64 per cent to just 15 per cent.

The event was originally scheduled to take place in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, but with the entire continent of Africa on the UK government’s no-go list the convention was moved online.

Mark Tanzer, Abta’s chief executive, described Mr Shapps’s speech as “very retrospective".

“The travel corridors he mentioned are mainly shut.

“We’re still in the middle of this crisis. All links in the outbound value chain – hotels, airlines, tour operators and travel agents, and the thousands of suppliers to the UK travel industry – are reeling from Foreign Office advice against travel, and from quarantine imposition.

"We understand that the government is facing a difficult balancing act in trying to limit the spread of the virus, while keeping the economy moving. But we’re more than six months into this crisis now, and the basic tools that would help build customer confidence to travel are still missing.

"We must now move away from the blanket Foreign Office advice and have a regionalised, targeted approach to both Foreign Office advice and quarantine.

“If we don’t act now – if our government doesn’t act now – to stabilise the situation and rebuild customer confidence, there is a real danger that those jobs will be lost for ever.”

Mr Shapps also said that the government is hoping to set up a reciprocal agreement with Europe on flights between the UK and the EU to allow travel to continue in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

A year ago, such a deal was reached, but with 78 days to go the transport secretary revealed there is no such agreement to enable airlines to continue to fly.

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