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UK Looks Closer at Covid-19 Testing to Open Air Routes

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed a Global Travel Taskforce would explore ways to open up options for business travel and tourism during the coronavirus pandemic

Published on October 9, 2020

Heathrow Rapid Testing Heathrow airport has been trialing rapid testing solutions for Covid-19. Photo courtesy Heathrow Airport.

The UK government has launched a Global Travel Taskforce to look at ways to improve travel between the UK and the world. The announcement of the taskforce follows several high profile calls for Transatlantic routes between the UK and US to be re-opened.

Announcing the Taskforce, the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, said that "The introduction of travel corridors in July was a major step forward in safely re-starting international travel whilst retaining the government’s ability to act quickly if public health was at risk, with international passenger numbers handled at UK airports up by around 400% between June and July to 3.1 million passengers ... However, many of our major markets remain or have become high risk, and therefore are not eligible for our travel corridor list. A potential solution that has been widely debated is the use of testing to reduce or replace the need for self-isolation."

Shapps explained that the government "does not support the use of a single test on arrival as an alternative to self-isolation. However, a combination of self-isolation and testing is promising."

The Taskforce will be asked to "consider what steps the government can take, both domestically and on the international stage, to enable the safe and sustainable recovery of international travel". Among the topics that the Taskforce is being asked to consider, are "how a testing regime for international arrivals could be implemented to boost safe travel to and from the UK", "what steps we can take to facilitate business and tourist travel on a bilateral and global basis, through innovative testing models and other non-testing means", and "more broadly, what steps we can take to increase consumer confidence and reduce the barriers to a safe and sustainable recovery of international travel".

Outlining the time frame for the Taskforce, the government said that "The taskforce will operate at pace for a time limited period, and will formally report back to the Prime Minister no later than early November 2020."

Airlines UK, an association of British airlines, recently said that "the UK economy is losing £32m every day due to the lack of an air bridge between the UK and US". Responding to the Taskforce, the Chief Executive of Airlines UK, Tim Alderslade, said "That the Government is considering testing is a step forward but we need to see the detail. Ultimately we need to get to pre-departure testing for all arrivals in the UK – which is becoming the international norm – as soon as practically possible. Aviation is at a critical juncture and we have no time to lose, and we urge the Prime Minister to move quickly to get testing off the ground no later than the end of November so Britain does not lose further ground with its closest rivals."

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