The government is set to announce a “global travel taskforce” to look at ways to “reinvigorate overseas travel”, according to reports.
However, the remit of the taskforce will include considering options to use testing to reduce quarantine, meaning an expected announcement on that may not come until next month at the earliest.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps this week told the Conservative party conference that an announcement was imminent on plans for testing, raising hopes that trials could be approved as early as this week.
However, The Guardian reports that the government will instead announce a “global travel taskforce”, jointly chaired by Shapps and health secretary Matt Hancock, which would not report back until mid-November.
The report says the taskforce, which could be unveiled on Thursday or sooner, has been set up at the request of the prime minister and will look at “ways to reinvigorate overseas travel”.
It also suggests that ministers have been exploring options for a single test, either five or eight days after arrival, rather than a two-test system.
Last week, Heathrow airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye told Travel Weekly the prime minister had indicated a trial on airport testing could be signed off this month.
However, he said that a testing facility readied for use in August may not end up being used, depending on what plan the government opted for, adding: “We don’t know whether testing at the airport will end up being part of the solution.”
Speaking on Monday, Shapps said: “The next stage is to enable testing, which people sometimes wrongly think is a very straightforward thing – ‘Why don’t you just test people at the airport? If you know they’re clear, let people in, job done’.
“The answer is that in someone who is asymptomatic, not displaying any symptoms, that won’t find a very large proportion of cases. In fact the studies show that if you check somebody on the first day that they arrive, you will probably just find 7% of people who actually do have the virus.
“So we have got to be a bit smarter than that. The way to do that is to still have a period of quarantine but also test and be able to release people. I will be saying more about that shortly.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson told The Guardian that there was no delay over testing plans, saying: “As we’ve been clear, work is ongoing with clinicians and health experts on the practicalities of using testing to reduce the self-isolation period for international arrivals.”
The introduction of airport testing is one of five demands made by the Save Future Travel Coalition, alongside a review of the government’s Job Support Scheme, grants for SMEs, regionalised quarantine and APD relief.
A petition set up by the coalition on Monday had received 6,500 signatures by Wednesday morning.