It's amazing that eight months into the crisis this is England's first concerted effort to test and track from its airports. It's not alone in it's failure to act, of course, but disappointing nonetheless.
England will introduce a new system on Dec. 15 allowing passengers arriving from high-risk countries to take a COVID-19 test after five days of quarantine and to be released from any further self-isolation if they test negative.
Airlines and other companies in the travel and tourism industries had been calling for such a scheme for months, having suffered devastating consequences from a 14-day quarantine rule that has deterred people from travelling.
“The move will give passengers the confidence to book international trips in the knowledge that they can return home and isolate for a shorter period if they have received a negative test,” the government said in a statement on Tuesday.
The new scheme will be open to all passengers arriving from countries not featured on the government’s safe travel list, such as France, Italy, Spain and a number of other major destinations usually favoured by British tourists.
“With this announcement there is now light at the end of the tunnel not just for carriers and UK aviation but consumers looking to get away at Christmas and beyond,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry group Airlines UK.
People travelling to England by plane, ferry or train from Dec. 15 and wishing to take advantage of the scheme will have to book a test with a private provider from a government-approved list. They will have to pay for their test.
Those who decide not to take a test will still be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
British Airways said the new scheme was “a significant step in the right direction”.
The airline added that it planned to publish results of trials it was conducting between Britain and the United States that it said would show that a robust pre-departure testing system would eliminate the need for quarantine altogether.
The government also said it would introduce new financial support for commercial airports and ground handlers in England in the new year, capped at up to 8 million pounds ($11 million)per site.
“This new package of support for airports, alongside a new testing regime for international arrivals, will help the (aviation) sector take off once again as we build back better from the pandemic,” finance minister Rishi Sunak said in the government statement.
(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon and Sarah Young;editing by William James)
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Photo Credit: Passengers from international flights arrive at Heathrow Airport, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, July 29, 2020. Toby Melville / Reuters