The government is working “very fast” on alternatives to traveller quarantine restrictions but the government’s Global Travel Taskforce has yet to report to Boris Johnson.
The disclosure came as the prime minister was urged in Parliament to throw a “lifeline” to the aviation industry.
The comments at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday came ahead of a debate on the future of the sector.
The 90-minute debate prompted transport committee chairman Hew Merriman MP to reiterate calls for financial support for aviation at a time when there is pent-up demand for travel.
“When the air bridge was opened up to the Canaries bookings went up by 112%. Unfortunately that was a few weeks before the November restrictions, so they collapsed again, but it shows that the demand is there, if only we can find a testing mechanism to allow passengers to fly with confidence,” he said.
“It is not as if that mechanism is not out there. I received a spreadsheet from an aviation company: I would call it a spreadsheet of shame for the government.
“It showed 30 countries that have already delivered testing, either before the passenger reaches the airport that they are going to transfer to, or once they have arrived.
“If those other countries can demonstrate, with science, that that can be done safely, why on earth can the UK not do the same thing, when we have been the leaders and pioneers in aviation? That is absolutely what is required.”
He called on Number 10 “to ensure we get early indications of what the testing mechanism would be”.
Merriman added: “Let us unlock our skies again. The industry is a great one, and it needs to come back with government policy and support.”
Altrincham and Sale West Conservative MP Sir Graham Brady, whose constituency includes Manchester airport, raised the issue at PMQs.
He said: “Tens of thousands of jobs have already been lost in aviation, and hundreds of thousands more hang in the balance.
“Will my right honourable friend throw the industry a lifeline by ensuring that the government taskforce reports in time for a testing regime to replace the current quarantine arrangements as we come out of this lockdown on 3 December?”
While the taskforce has still not made its recommendations, Johnson replied: “We are certainly working very fast to see whether we can replace the current quarantine arrangements for every category of self-isolation.
“Whether it will come fast enough for me, I do not know, but I will keep my honourable friend informed of developments.
“We certainly want to help the airline industry.”
Former transport secretary Chris Grayling led the Westminster debate on aviation, warning that “the entire future of individual UK airlines is now under threat”.
He said: “I do not understand why a 72-hour test prior to departure, coupled with a check-up test on arrival in the UK, represents a greater risk than the 14-day quarantine.
“Given the urgency of the situation that the aviation sector faces, I do not really understand why the global taskforce has not reported already.”
Aviation minister Robert Courts admitted the sector was facing “incredibly challenging times” and said the travel corridors policy introduced in July was being kept under review.
He revealed the taskforce will report back to the prime minister “very soon.”
But he told the debate: “We cannot currently endorse testing passengers immediately on arrival – in other words at airports – as a means of avoiding the 14-day self-isolation period.
“The reason for that is that the long incubation period means that a significant proportion of infected but asymptomatic passengers might receive a negative result but go on to develop the virus over the following days.”
Courts revealed that the taskforce “is looking at how a domestic testing regime for international arrivals could be implemented in order to boost safe travel to and from the UK, and to allow UK residents to travel with confidence.
“It will consider what steps we can take to facilitate global business and tourist travel, including through bilateral agreements and multilateral forums.
“We will continue to explore with key international partners issues such as global common standards, testing models, measures around enforcement, exemptions and other border management measures.
“Beyond that, we will explore what steps we can take to increase consumer confidence, ensure that current measures are being properly adhered to, and restart international travel safely.
“The combination of the steps that we are taking on public health, the work that we are taking forward on testing and travel corridors, and the unprecedented economic support provides a strong foundation for the recovery of the sector.”
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