Quick and easy rapid antigen tests will help supercharge Britain’s restart of non-essential international travel as ministers and health officials balance restoring freedoms with the threat of vaccine-resistant virus mutations that could be imported from abroad. The tests, which return results in just 30 minutes, could help get international travel underway as early as May 17.
Non-essential international travel is currently outlawed and ministers have warned British holidaymakers not to book foreign holidays yet despite pleas from the travel industry to help rescue a high season that is at risk of being lost for the second year in a row.
British Prime Minister Boris Minister refused to give the green light for a restart of international travel during a press conference on Monday but he did confirm plans for a traffic light system that would enable quarantine free travel to ‘green list’ countries.
Meanwhile, arrivals from amber countries would have to self-isolate on entering England, while arrivals from red list countries will need to continue to pay for mandatory hotel quarantine at a cost of around £1,700 per person for 10-days.
Even arrivals from green list countries will need to pay for a pre-departure test, as well as two post-arrival tests. At present, the post-arrival testing package costs £200 for gold-standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
On Tuesday, easyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren slammed the idea of making holidaymakers pay more for a testing package than the majority of the fares his airline offers passengers.
Johnson reacted sympathetically to Lundgren’s concerns, telling reporters: “I do think we want to make things as easy as we possibly can … The boss of EasyJet is right to focus on this issue, we’re going to see what we can do to make things as flexible and as affordable as possible.”
“I do want to see international travel start up again. We have to be realistic… we can’t do it immediately. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve given up on May 17,” Johnson continued.
Johnson said that rapid antigen tests, which are sometimes known as lateral flow tests, could be approved for use for post-arrival tests. The British government is making two lateral flow tests a week available to every person in England as part of an ambitious multi-million-pound mass testing programme.
School children and teachers are already encouraged to test themselves twice a week in an earlier phase of the programme which has helped contain outbreaks of infections in schools.
The lateral flow tests are already approved for use for pre-departure testing, although they must be done under supervision. British Airways offers a discount with testing provider Qured where customers use a home test kit under the supervision of a health care professional via video call.
Each test costs £33 but prices of the tests have been dropped significantly in recent weeks.
British Airways CEO Sean Doyle remained optimistic that international travel could be allowed to restart on May 17, although only a handful of countries might initially make the green list.
Israel, Malta, the United Arab Emirates and the United States are all touted as countries that might make the cut for the green list first. The criteria include vaccination progress, the number of daily new infections and the ability to carry out genomic sequencing to identify virus mutations.
Much of Europe might not make the green list until much later in the summer as a third wave sends infections skyrocketing.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.