The boss of Heathrow has repeated a call for airport passenger testing for Covid-19 as an alternative to 14-day quarantines for travellers from ‘high risk’ countries.
He won support from the World Travel & Tourism Council, which urged governments to introduce “comprehensive testing” at airports to combat Covid-19.
This came as Heathrow revealed a 96% collapse in passenger numbers in the three months to June 30 as global aviation came to a virtual standstill.
The London hub suffered an adjusted pre-tax loss of £471 million in the first six months of 2020.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “Today’s results should serve as a clarion call for the government – the UK needs a passenger testing regime and fast.
“Without it, Britain is just playing a game of quarantine roulette.
“As many of our customers have experienced, it’s difficult to plan a holiday that way, let alone run a business.
“Testing offers a way to safely open up travel and trade to some of the UK’s biggest markets which currently remain closed.
“Our European competitors are racing ahead with passenger testing, if the UK doesn’t act soon global Britain will be nothing more than a campaign slogan.”
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the government needed to introduce an “alternative to the cliff-edge” of quarantine for free travel and said a testing system could be “up and running within the next couple of weeks”.
He said it would likely involve people quarantining for eight days rather than 14, after which they could leave if they received a negative test result. Other countries such as France are testing similar approaches.
“We all have the same interests here. Nobody wants to have a second wave. We will always put the interests of health and safety first. But the government also has a responsibility to protect jobs and support the economy,” Holland-Kaye said.
An airport spokesperson described the government’s risk-based approach to allow quarantine-free flights from low and medium risk countries as very welcome, but it only covers 30% of Heathrow’s markets.
“Establishing an alternative to quarantine for Covid-free passengers from other countries should be a priority for government.
“Pre-flight testing for passengers from high risk countries will allow long-haul flying to resume, which is critical for the UK’s economic recovery.”
WTTC president and chief executive Gloria Guevara said: “It is imperative that all airports, catering for international travel, implement globally recognised testing standards for both inbound and outbound passengers.
“This will provide reassurance to all travellers, maintain ‘air corridors’ between countries, and remove damage and disruption caused by blunt quarantines which massively impact the recovery of the travel and tourism sector.”
She added: “Removing the whole of Spain from the UK travel corridors exception list risks causing irreparable damage to the sector. It also makes no sense; while Spain as a whole, and Catalonia in particular, has a higher rate of coronavirus cases than then UK, the rate in Andalucía, the Balearics and Canaries is actually lower than the UK.
“As part of the screening process, testing must involve temperature checks and swab tests for all arriving and departing passengers with results back within 24 hours, and only those testing positive – with or without symptoms – should be put into quarantine. Where there are apps to assist in effective test and trace regimes, passengers must be advised to sign up and use them.
“We are going to have to live with Covid-19 for the foreseeable future so we must do all we can to protect public health and save lives, whilst restoring consumer confidence, driving the global economic recovery, and saving the jobs of millions of people whose very livelihoods depend upon a thriving travel and tourism sector.”