The government’s Global Travel Taskforce announced last week will recommend a “test and release” system involving “a single test about a week after arrival”.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps revealed the likely outcome when the taskforce makes recommendations to prime minister Boris Johnson next month when he addressed Abta’s Travel Convention today.
Shapps said the government’s chief medical officer had ruled out a single Covid test on arrivals, but reported: “The taskforce is working with the industry to implement a new test and release system which will mean a single test about a week after arrival.”
He insisted the test would be “at the cost of the passenger” and told the Convention: “We’re also working on a scheme to establish whether self-isolation could take place before departure.
“We’ll consider all options for restarting safe travel.”
Shapps insisted: “The work behind this [the taskforce] has been immense.
“We’ve been working with the scientists and with colleagues in other countries. Now we know for certain that if you test at day zero you only pick up about 7% of those who are asymptomatic.
“This taskforce won’t be going back to first principles. It will draw on work already done. For example, we don’t need two tests. But we do need to do a test in person.”
Shapps dismissed a suggestion that the government is dragging its feet by having the taskforce report early next month. He said: “November is two weeks away. It’s not a long time.
“The announcement of the taskforce was not day one of a very lengthy process.”
But he said: “As a responsible government we could not have a situation where we say ‘Let the NHS take more pressure’. Developing this private [testing] approach is very important.”
The transport secretary told the Convention: “Some have promoted the idea we should test at borders. The chief medical officer has been clear it would not capture enough information on those who are asymptomatic.
“Accepting a day-zero test on arrival could allow significant numbers of people to believe they are Covid free when they not, and that would create a new problem for the travel industry.”
Shapps rejected the idea that the government had been slow to offer sector-specific support for travel, saying: “There has been billions in support to the travel industry. I think I’m right in saying aviation has been the most paid-out sector.”
He argued: “We have tried to strike a balance between protecting citizens and support for safe travel. Let me assure you the contribution of travel to the economy is understood by everyone in government.
“It’s precisely because the travel industry is so we important we have supported it with unprecedented measures across the economy.”
He suggested “55,000 staff in aviation have benefited from furlough” and said: “11% of total funding was provided to aviation.”
Shapps noted: “We’re nearing the end of the Brexit transition period and seeking arrangements to ensure connectivity.
“We remain hopeful an agreement can be reached – it’s critical flights between the UK and EU can continue to operate as normal.
“We expect the EU to bring forward contingency arrangements if there is no agreement, as they have done before, and we would reciprocate that.
“Even though we’re leaving the EU, we’re not leaving Europe.”
He insisted: “I believe significantly more people will be flying in the months ahead. I know the travel industry is hurting. We will work with you to get people travelling again. But they only way to do that is to do it safely.”