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Restrictions at border to remain, says transport secretary

Transport secretary Grant Shapps pledged to review international travel restrictions in the New Year but insisted government “surveillance” of arrivals and the sequencing of positive Covid tests would continue.

Shapps told the Airport Operators Association (AOA) conference: “The government will continue to maintain surveillance at the border and genomic sequencing, and we will review the policy again.”

In a video message to the conference, Shapps said: “It has been another incredibly tough and frustrating year, but we have seen progress.

“Covid isn’t over, but the recent relaxation in travel restrictions is a sign we’re on the way to recovery.

“Crucially, the Foreign Office has lifted its advice against travel to all but a small number of countries. This is a significant step towards normalising travel.”

He noted: “Our inbound vaccination policy now covers over 100 countries. From October 24, eligible fully vaccinated passengers will be able to replace the day two PCR test with a lateral flow test making it cheaper and easier.

Shapps promised a strategic policy framework for aviation would be published “by the end of the year” which would “reflect on aviation’s contribution to climate change”.

He argued the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow next month “is a unique opportunity” saying: “COP26 can show the world aviation is serious about tackling emissions.”

Shapps added: “Inevitably, we’ve had some pretty frank conversations over the period, but I want to thank the AOA for the work it has done and the way it has engaged with government.”

However, Labour MP and shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “We’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for a sectoral deal for aviation. The chancellor promised a sector deal. It hasn’t delivered one.

“You can’t say ‘level up’ if you’re not supporting aviation in the regions. You need to ensure regional connectivity.

“Jobs will be lost and the industry be weakened if the government doesn’t step forward.”

McMahon argued: “If we want to decarbonise, it can only be done if the industry is in a healthy state. It feels like the government is disjointed. We want to see a single plan.”

However, he criticised industry calls to remove Air Passenger Duty (APD) saying: “We don’t believe APD is a barrier to travel. We would rather use it to benefit our airports.”

McMahon also told AOA members: “You can’t say as an airport operator you need financial support and also pay dividends to shareholders.”

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