April 23, 2024

Govt fails to commit to Covid airport tests

By Bev Fearis, published 9/09/20

The Government is coming under increasing criticism over its lack of commitment to Covid testing at airports.

In the latest development, ministers have ignored recommendations for traveller health screening outlined in a Transport Select Committee report on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the aviation sector.

Any commitment to testing was noticeably missing in the Government’s initial response, published on Monday.

On the same day, Transport secretary Grant Shapps was quizzed on airport testing by MPs and said: “We’re working on a test and quarantine policy and I will return with proposals currently being worked on with the industry.”

But he said Government scientists have not yet signed off any test as usable, despite assurances from Heathrow that it has a testing centre ready to go.

The business travel and aviation industries have long been calling for airport testing to reduce the current 14-day quarantine for people arriving from ‘high risk’ countries.

BTA Chief Executive Clive Wratten called for rapid development and approval of traveller testing at the first meeting of a new All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Business Travel yesterday. (See separate story.)

Advantage Travel Partnerships Chief Executive Julia Lo Bue-Said said: “If we are to have a hope of salvaging the rest of 2020 we must secure the Government’s support on testing at ports of entry.”

Charlie Cornish, Chief Executive of MAG which owns Manchester, East Midlands and Stansted Airports, said testing should be a top priority.

“With hundreds of thousands of travel sector jobs at stake and the summer holiday season already behind us, progress must be made on this as a matter of urgency,” he said.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye earlier said testing is the “lifeline that the UK’s aviation sector needs to get back on its feet”.

This week the Government said it would publish a recovery plan for the aviation sector during the autumn.

The plan, it said, would run to 2025 and will look at the recovery of the sector in the context of the Government’s “green ambitions”.

The Chancellor has promised a consultation on aviation tax reform in response to the Committee’s recommendation that Air Passenger Duty payments should be temporarily suspended.

Chair of the Transport Select Committee, Huw Merriman MP, said: “The publication of an aviation recovery plan is welcome but it cannot come quick enough for a sector devastated by the impact of coronavirus. Our report expressed a desire to see more pace and detail on Government action to address the crisis. We await the Government’s aviation recovery plan and will look carefully at how Government intends to deal with some of the specific points in our report.

“The Government’s quarantine regime, coupled by a refusal to endorse airport testing to reduce the quarantine period, adds further barriers to travel. Whilst the Government’s approach can be argued for on health grounds, it also further justifies the Committee’s original call for the Government to provide a sector deal to support our ailing aviation industry and its workforce.”

Ministers are due to debate the issues in the House of Commons tomorrow (Thursday).