Government ‘health hawks’ behind testing delays

Britain is behind on implementing an effective testing regime because the “health hawks in the government don’t want people to travel”, according to a leading consultant.

Asked on a Travel Weekly webcast why the UK had delayed testing trials when many other countries already had schemes in place, Paul Charles, chief executive of The PC Agency, said: “The key reason is that the health hawks in the government, especially [chief medical officer] Chris Whitty and [health secretary] Matt Hancock, don’t want people to travel. That’s the key reason.

“They’ve had a strategy over the last few months, which has been ‘we need people to, as far as possible, stay in the UK’. We don’t want to encourage the virus with people traveling abroad or coming in as visitors. And therefore, they haven’t incentivised people to travel.

“That has been the hallmark of this policy. That’s why we’re in the position we are. It’s a very different strategy to many other governments.”

Despite some countries actively developing testing regimes, Charles admitted that the UK government wasn’t alone in implementing what he described as “don’t travel policies”.

“This was one thing that Trump did early on, the travel ban to the US. So that’s been the hallmark of their policy rather than the technology [not being fit for purpose],” he said.

“But equally, the technology itself has not been accurate enough and stable enough to be able to introduce the testing system. That’s now changing with saliva tests about to be licensed later in October. That’s going to bring the cost down of tests to 38 or 40 Euros.”

Charles said saliva tests made “more innovative solutions” and reducing quarantine times possible, but he added: “One thing is clear, there won’t be testing at the airport on arrival. It doesn’t actually make sense. Why would you hold up people coming off a plane, off Eurostar, at the terminal, keep them there for another two hours until they get the results, and then send them home?

“It doesn’t make any sense at all. Best to get them off, straight back to their homes or hotels if they’re visitors, and then take one single test 5, 6 or 7 days later.”

Gemma Antrobus, owner of Haselmere Travel and chair of Aito Agents, agreed with Charles’ statement that the government doesn’t want people to travel, saying: “It’s nothing that we don’t know.”

But she added: “Nobody in travel wants to put people’s health at risk and I think there are some very mixed messages out there, that we’re all trying to save our industry and save our businesses, we would forsake our responsibly to ensure people don’t get sick. But that so isn’t true.

“What we’ve all been shouting for at the same time as this is sector-specific support. And that is what we haven’t had and what the government should have done. As soon as they made that decision that nobody should travel, with that has to come support, as they did for restaurants, when nobody was going to them.

“Things have to happen hand-in-glove. If you make one decision to limit what people can do, you have to support it with something specific to that sector. And that is what we have all been lacking and is the reason why so many redundancies are happening, and so many viable travel businesses are failing.”

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