Shapps outlines ‘test and release’ plan

By Bev Fearis, published 14/10/20

A single test about a week after arrival is likely to be the recommendation from the new Global Travel Taskforce as an alternative to the 14-day quarantine.

Speaking at the virtual ABTA Convention today, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed “test and release” was likely to be the proposal given to Prime Minister Boris Johnson when the taskforce reports back next month.

“Some have promoted the idea we should test at borders,” said Shapps. “But the chief medical officer has made it clear this would not capture enough information on those who are asymptomatic.

“Accepting a day-zero test on arrival could allow significant numbers of people to believe they are Covid free when they not, and that would create a new problem for the travel industry.”

He said the Government has been working with scientists and with colleagues in other countries and now "knows for certain” that testing on arrival, at day zero, would only pick up about 7% of those who are asymptomatic.

“This taskforce won’t be going back to first principles. It will draw on work already done. For example, we don’t need two tests, but we do need to do a test in person,” he said.

The Government said it was also working on a scheme to establish whether self-isolation could take place before departure.

“We’ll consider all options for restarting safe travel,” Shapps insisted.

The business travel sector has been putting pressure on the Government to take a different approach for travel booked through a TMC, calling for rapid testing before and on departure.

At a meeting yesterday, American Express GBT, major airlines and associations agreed the best way to secure a safe travel restart is for business travellers to be tested 48 hours before departure and again on departure at the airport, followed by an additional test on arrival if necessary.

They are calling for this to be tested initially on London-New York flights before being rolled out to other key routes.

American Express GBT Chief Commercial Officer Drew Crawley told The Business Travel Magazine that US authorities were ahead of the UK with regards to putting this in place.

It is believed the US Transportation Department and the Department of Homeland Security are talking to UK counterparts to put a travel corridor in place before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “Implementing “test and release” after five 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.”

Virgin Atlantic Chief Executive Office Shai Weiss told the ABTA Convention: "Without efficient testing, tracing and isolating the UK will not emerge from this crisis. Rapid point-of-care testing pre-departure has to happen if travel is to take off again and consumer confidence is to be restored."

Chris Galanty, Global CEO for Flight Centre’s business travel divisions, said test and release would be a much-needed step in the right direction but urged the Government to consider exempting business travellers from quarantine all together.

“The UK is a major business travel hub for Europe and our government should be leading the way in trailblazing effective ways of getting the sector moving, especially as we are about to officially leave the EU," he said. "But so far we haven’t seen this happen. Meanwhile other countries like Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands are way ahead of the UK in airport testing protocols and allowing business travel to resume."