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Ministers have ‘confidence’ in outbound travel not seen since Covid

A leading airline representative has reported “confidence in ministers” in outbound travel at a higher level than seen since the onset of Covid.

Dale Keller, chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives (BAR-UK), said the October reopening has gone “better than we hoped” so far.

The industry received a double boost last week with the government removing PCR tests for vaccinated arrivals to England in time for the half-term holiday and the US opening its borders from November 8.

Confirmation of the removal of day-two PCR tests for those vaccinated from Sunday October 24 came with barely nine days’ notice and US entry requirements remained unspecified.

Speaking at the Latin American Travel Association Expo, Keller – who has worked alongside other aviation bodies and the Department for Transport in implementing government controls throughout the pandemic – said: “It’s not ideal, but we have to work with what we’ve got.”

Cheaper lateral flow tests can be booked from October 22 when a list of approved providers will go live on the gov.uk site. Passengers will have to book and pay for the test in advance and enter the booking reference on their passenger locator form (PLF), then upload a photo of the post-arrival test result. If it’s positive they can take a free PCR test.

Keller said: “Those who have already travelled will find it an easier, quicker process. But it’s important to realise everyone who purchases a test and puts it on the PLF must provide the result.”

Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee urged testing companies “to pass on the savings in full” and Keller said: “We want more clarity over the final price because it was smoke and mirrors previously.”

The government announcement noted some tests “would remain on the market pending validation… to address any potential shortage of supply”. But Keller said: “There should be plenty of capacity in the system.”

The devolved administrations are yet to confirm if they will follow Westminster’s lead, but Keller said: “As far as we’re aware they plan to follow. There is a commitment to a four nations approach, but we’ve continually seen a delay in the other nations coming out with announcements which creates confusion.”

Keller insisted: “I’ve seen a confidence in ministers in the last four weeks that I’ve not seen at any other point. The October reopening was better than we hoped. We have to wait to see the winter data, but if the government is happy with that, the January policy review will go further.”

The regime for unvaccinated travellers remains tough, with a pre-departure test, PCR tests on days two and eight and 10 days self-isolation without an additional ‘test to release’ on day five.

Keller warned “Covid will be around for a long time” and a second aviation source asked: “What happens if vaccines are not rolled out across the world?

“Some big markets are not going to be fully vaccinated, not least the US.

“The Asian markets are slow. Latin America is not great. Australia is way behind. How do we ensure that all works? What sort of travel regime are we going to have long term?”

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