The government is facing increasing opposition from within the Conservative party over its stance on airport testing, according to reports.
Criticism of existing quarantine arrangements and calls for the introduction of a testing regime grew this week, with The Telegraphlaunching a Test4Travel campaign and The Daily Maillobbying to Get Britain Flying Again.
The Mail reported a “groundswell of anxiety” within the Tory party over the impact of the current 14-day quarantine system and said 40 backbench Tory MPs could join a rebellion ahead of a debate in the House of Commons on Thursday.
On Friday, transport secretary Grant Shapps insisted airport testing was “not a silver bullet solution” but confirmed in an interview with Sky News that the government was continuing to explore a two-test option which could reduce the length of time travellers were required to self-isolate.
He said: “You probably have to have some kind of quarantine period here, perhaps seven or eight days, maybe a test then. But these are the things we’re working through at the moment.”
Prime minister Boris Johnson said airport testing could offer “a false sense of security” and insisted the current quarantine system formed an important part of the government’s “toolbox” in fighting Covid-19.
Henry Smith, Conservative MP for Crawley, which includes Gatwick airport, said: “We are supposed to be looking to be global Britain and yet we are at a competitive disadvantage to those countries like Germany, like France, that are testing passengers.
“I would urge the government to reconsider. That is a very important part of public health confidence, confidence in flying and competitiveness of the UK economy.”
Former aviation secretary Paul Maynard said quarantine was causing “immense complications for holidaymakers and the travel sector”, while former aviation minister Theresa Villiers said: “There is great anxiety among Conservative backbenchers because we know so many businesses in our constituencies will go under without support for aviation.”
Former transport secretary Chris Grayling told the House of Commons: “The industry is suffering badly in the current crisis, and the level of job losses is profoundly concerning. It is really important that we get the transatlantic routes going again.”
Germany previously offered free Covid tests for travellers returning from high-risk countries, but scrapped the free tests this week as it introduced a “strengthened quarantine regime”.
It now requires travellers returning from high-risk areas including Spain, France, Belgium and Croatia to self-isolate for 14 days, although it allows the isolation period to be reduced by several days if the traveller subsequently pays for a test which proves negative.