Pilots, cabin crew and other airline workers in England could be allowed to skip self-isolation if they are identified as a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case, a government minister suggested on Sunday.
The decision to relax quarantine rules comes as England faces a ‘pingdemic’ of hundreds of thousands of people being forced into isolation because the NHS contact tracing app has pinged them as a close contact. Last week, a record 607,486 in England were pinged by the app – a 17 per cent surge compared to the week before.
The situation has caused fears of food shortages and fuel rationing because so many essential workers have been ordered into isolation. The government has said some critical workers can skip quarantine if they take a daily COVID-19 test but the very limited list of roles is eligible for the scheme is starting to grow by the day.
On Sunday, Home Office minister Kit Malthouse suggested airline workers for the likes of British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and easyJet could qualify for the scheme after chaotic scenes at Heathrow Airport on Saturday.
“We’re being as agile as we can to overcome these problems as we go, balancing it always against safety from the virus,” Malthouse told Times Radio.
Heathrow was expecting its busiest weekend of the year after travel restrictions were recently eased but arriving passengers faced three-hour delays to get through immigration because of a problem with the e-gates and staff shortages.
To be eligible for isolation exemption, workers must be fully vaccinated and take a daily rapid COVID-19 test. Workers would also only be able to skip isolation in order to go to work and would have to return home.
It’s not known how that might affect pilots and cabin crew who could be travelling overseas.
Some passengers travelling through Heathrow on Saturday said the delays were caused by the slow process of airline staffers having to manually check COVID-19 paperwork. Airlines have urged passengers to download and use apps that pre-approve the necessary paperwork before arriving at the airport.
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.