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Quarantine BEFORE flying? Grant Shapps is considering letting travellers to UK complete isolation abroad – as he launches ‘Global Travel Taskforce’ to look at ways of saving decimated tourism industry from crippling 14-day quarantine rules
- Taskforce will seek a practical alternative to the 14-day isolation regime in place
- Ideas include a short quarantine followed by a Covid test the passenger pays for
- If they pass the test they are released from the self-isolation into the country
- Will also look at schemes where quarantine can be completed ‘pre-departure’
UK arrivals could complete self-isolate before coming to Britain or undergo a shortened quarantine and then be released if they pass a Covid test under plans being examined to try to spark life back into international travel.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said tonight that a ‘Global Travel Taskforce’ would build on work already underway to develop a practical alternative to the economically damaging 14-day isolation regime currently in place.
Among ideas it will look as are a shorter quarantine followed by a coronavirus test paid for privately by the passenger, which would end their isolation if it comes back negative.
But the Department for Transport said it would also look at ‘alternative testing models, including pilots with partner countries to ascertain whether self-isolation could be undertaken pre-departure.’
However it did not give details of how this would work or how it would guard against people contracting the virus on their flight to Britain.
Airlines and airports welcomed the announcement this afternoon, but urged ministers to move swiftly to help an industry facing decimation by Covid-19 international movement restrictions.
In a statement, the chief executives of Easyjet, Heathrow, Manchester Airport and Virgin Atlantic, said: ‘Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction by the UK Government to restart the economy and protect thousands of jobs across the country.
‘We support the decision to opt for a single test, private sector-led, passenger-funded approach, that does not impact on the NHS in any way.
‘But travellers need a firm commitment that a comprehensive testing regime will be implemented in early November.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said tonight that a ‘Global Travel Taskforce’ would build on work already underway to develop a practical alternative to the economically damaging 14-day isolation regime currently in place
The Department for Transport said it would also look at ‘alternative testing models, including pilots with partner countries to ascertain whether self-isolation could be undertaken pre-departure.’
World’s first Covid passport technology trial on flights from Heathrow this week
Coronavirus passport trials are taking place at Heathrow this week to test technology to let people travel the globe without risk of being quarantined.
Passengers on United Airlines and Cathay Pacific are trying out an app called the CommonPass.
The phone software is a digital health pass which can hold a certified COVID-19 test status or show someone has been vaccinated in future in a way designed to satisfy various governments’ different regulations.
It has been launched by non-profit trust Commons Project Foundation, part of the World Economic Forum, in the hope of it will end the days of flyers producing bits of paper, often in different languages.
The tech is very much at the trial stage using volunteers on flights between London, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore under government observation.
But it is seen as a longer-term measure to allow air travel to return to something like pre-coronavirus levels.
However, it is reliant on Governments around the world accepting test results from ‘certified’ laboratories in other countries and allowing those with negative results to enter freely on their say-so.
Dr Bradley Perkins, chief medical officer of The Commons Project, said: ‘Without the ability to trust COVID-19 tests – and eventually vaccine records – across international borders, many countries will feel compelled to retain full travel bans and mandatory quarantines for as long as the pandemic persists.
‘With trusted individual health data, countries can implement more nuanced health screening requirements for entry.’
‘A test on day five, which the Government’s own conservative evidence said would be ”highly effective” and which they’re already doing in Germany, should be the starting point.
‘We encourage the Government to take a lead in moving to pre-departure testing, as well as the approval of new testing technologies, as soon as possible.
‘Without a rapid move to testing, the UK will fall even further behind our competitors and the economic recovery will fail to get off the ground.’
The aviation industry had hoped trials of new systems designed to cut travel quarantine times could begin as soon as tomorrow.
Boris Johnson is understood to have asked ministers and officials to conduct a ‘rapid review’ into the feasibility of using testing to ease restrictions on travellers.
Mr Shapps this afternoon said: ‘The current measures at the border have saved lives. Our understanding of the science now means we can intensify efforts to develop options for a testing regime and help reinvigorate our world-leading travel sector.
‘This new taskforce will not only help us move towards safer, smoother international travel as we continue to battle this virus but will also support global connectivity – helping facilitate more Covid-secure travel whilst protecting the population from imported cases.’
But shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: ‘The Government is again incompetently slow to react. They’ve had months to set up a taskforce, months to look into airport testing and months to sort out the flaws of their quarantine proposals. Tory Ministers are in a mess and need to get their act together.
‘It will take a long time to recover from the impact of the virus. The Government must come up with a comprehensive financial support package for the aviation sector and its supply chain which supports almost a quarter of a million jobs and protects the environment.’
Industry leaders are pushing for travellers to be tested at the airport and then re-tested a few days later in order to cut the current 14-day quarantine time which is crippling the sector and wrecking families’ travel plans.
But a Government source said pressure on testing capacity meant ministers were likely to focus on a single-test solution, with travellers asked to quarantine for five or eight days before being tested.
They defended the controversial quarantine regime, saying as many as 10 per cent of new cases in the UK over the summer are thought to have been brought in from abroad.
The decision to launch a review will dismay the aviation industry, which has been campaigning for the change for months, and which has offered to trial its own systems.
Hopes for an airport testing breakthrough this week look set to be dashed after ministers decided to launch another review of the issue. The coronavirus testing facility at Heathrow is pictured above
Chaos as just 63 per cent of 16,000 virus carriers are traced
The search for nearly 16,000 people who tested positive for coronavirus but were missed due to a computer glitch yesterday remained mired in confusion.
Test and trace staff are still battling to catch up with the enormous backlog caused by officials opting to use an inadequate computer programme.
Downing Street said 63 per cent of the positive cases had been contacted by 9.30am yesterday.
But staff said there were still major problems with the system.
One source added that a single household had been contacted 75 times over the weekend.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted in the Commons he was unable to confirm how many people had been affected by the blunder.
Labour asked how many of the estimated 48,000 contacts had now been traced, but Mr Hancock said the number would not be known until all those missed had been contacted.
Meanwhile, charity boss Mark Adams told MPs and peers care home testing is stuck in the ‘Dark Ages’ with residents and staff waiting up to ten days for results.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus heard the testing system has ‘gone backwards’ since summer, putting thousands of residents at risk.
It also comes as a blow to the Mail’s Get Britain Flying campaign, launched last month to encourage the Prime Minister to lift the ‘closed’ sign hanging over the UK.
But a Government source last night insisted that the launch of the taskforce was a sign that ministers were finally taking the issue seriously.
‘Everyone gets the importance of international travel to the economy and business, and to people’s lives – that is why it is being looked at,’ the source said.
‘But we also have to recognise the constraints on testing capacity and come up with the most effective solution. That will take a little time.’
A Department for Transport spokesman insisted there was no delay over plans for airport testing, adding: ‘As we’ve been clear, work is ongoing with clinicians and health experts on the practicalities of using testing to reduce the self-isolation period for international arrivals.’
The move comes amid growing Tory disquiet over the tough travel policy which requires people to quarantine for 14 days if arriving from a ‘hotspot’ country.
Italy, Sweden and Greece face possible restrictions later this week.
Meanwhile, a new study yesterday suggested that fewer than 1 per cent of air passengers test positive after seven days in quarantine.
Research commissioned by Air Canada and carried out by McMaster Health Labs and the University of Toronto, suggests a two-test regime could be a safe alternative.
Some 13,000 travellers arriving into Toronto Pearson International Airport were tested on arrival, and had a second swab after seven days in quarantine.
Fewer than 130 tested positive, with 80 per cent of cases picked up on arrival – suggesting a single-test could detect most cases.
The rest – a mere handful – were picked up seven days later.
The aviation industry had hoped trials of new systems designed to cut travel quarantine times could begin as soon as tomorrow. But Government sources said ministers were instead poised to launch a ‘taskforce’ to study the subject
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