NHS boss: no border testing this year

By Bev Fearis, published 14/10/20

The head of NHS Test and Trace failed to reassure the travel industry that Covid testing at borders will be in place by the end of the Brexit transition period at a business webinar this week.

In response to a question at a Federation of Small Business webinar yesterday, posed by the TMC consortium Focus Travel Partnership, Baroness Dido Harding, Chair of NHS Improvement and Interim Executive Chair of NHS Test and Trace, gave no reassurance that testing at airports would be in place before the end of the year.

Instead she said the NHS bodies were working “very collaboratively” with the borders team on testing on international arrivals but added: “The slight rider I would put on that is the science.”

“A negative test at a point in time only proves that you are not infectious at that point of time,” she told the webinar.

“If you have been travelling from a very high risk environment then I would expect that the clinicians will still advise that some kind of quarantine is necessary, so testing will help us, but I doubt it will be a silver bullet to fighting the virus and changing the need for us to be very cautious if people are travelling from very high risk environments.”

Abby Penston, CEO of the Focus Travel Partnership, said: “It’s desperately disappointing that there is no sense of urgency to get testing up and running at UK borders. The UK economy has supposedly set its sights on having a wider global presence by 1 January 2021. Business travel, trade and tourism rely on international travel, but it is stagnating while everyone is stuck in quarantine.

“Too much time has been wasted whilst decision makers have failed to acknowledge the importance of business travel, which contributes £220 billion to the UK’s GDP.”

Martin McTague, Policy and Advocacy Chairman for the FSB, added: “I know this is tricky and I know the science makes it hard to give somebody a completely clean bill of health on entry to the country but when you think of how many businesses around the country depend on travel in one way or another, it is vital that we try and free up that entry into the country.

“You only have to walk around central London and see the absence of tourism and the impacts of that on massive swathes of the capital. It is something that we should be pouring a lot more effort into.”