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Heathrow Gives British Government Until November 1 to Replace Quarantine with COVID-19 Testing

Heathrow Gives British Government Until November 1 to Replace Quarantine with COVID-19 Testing

Heathrow Airport has given the British government a November 1 deadline to replace a controversial 14-day quarantine policy with COVID-19 testing. Last week, lawmakers said they would establish a task force to assess ways to safely reopen international without the need for quarantine even though the novel Coronavirus continues to ravage across Europe, the United States and many other important international markets.

The government did not say when the task force might report back with recommendations but analysts believe quarantine might be cut to just five days with the use of private COVID-19 testing.

Photo Credit: Heathrow Airport

Heathrow and other big aviation businesses have proposed a two-test system with passengers receiving a test on arrival in the UK and a second just five days later. If the second test was negative, passengers would be released from quarantine. The dual-testing system would cost around £150 on top of airfares.

The system favoured by lawmakers, however, is a single test conducted a week after arrival. Passengers would be expected to either take the test at home or at a nearby private testing facility. The single test option could reduce out of pocket expenses to below £100.

Last week, minister of transport Grant Shapps said the government was establishing a Global Travel Taskforce to “open up international travel & boost our businesses”. Shapps suggested the task force would be led by medical experts.

The UK was late to introduce travel restrictions, initially imposing a 14-day quarantine on all new international arrivals in June. The country has since allowed arrivals from specified countries with low rates of COVID-19 transmission to enter without self-isolating. The list of countries changes often and with little notice, often catching holidaymakers off guard.

“The Government’s Global Travel Taskforce is a great step forward, but needs to act quickly to save the millions of UK jobs that rely on aviation,” commented Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye on Monday.

“Implementing “test and release” after 5 days of quarantine would kick start the economy. But the government could show real leadership by working with the US to develop a Common International Standard for pre-departure testing that would mean that only Covid-free passengers are allowed to travel from high risk countries,” he continued.

A so-called ‘travel corridor” between the UK and United States is rumoured to be set to open by the end of the year. Initially, it’s believed flights would only initially be allowed between London and New York City. The programme would require a common standard of testing and quarantine between the two countries.

At the moment, British travellers are banned from entering the United States, while U.S. passengers are expected to quarantine for 14-days.

Both Virgin Atlantic and British Airways have urged governments on both sides of the Atlantic to open up international travel with the use of COVID-19 testing. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) favours rapid pre-departure testing but that system might not catch asymptomatic or presymptomatic carriers.

A study commissioned by Air Canada strongly suggests that quarantine on arrival is completely ineffective after day seven.

Last month, just 1.2 million passengers passed through Heathrow Airport – a drop of 82 per cent on the same month in 2019. The numbers for October are set to be even worse as infection rates spike again in the UK and across Europe.

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