Industry chiefs urge Travel Taskforce to move swiftly

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Industry leaders gave a guarded welcome to news of a government taskforce on Covid tests for travellers and other measures “to support the travel sector” but warned of a “tidal wave of failures” if there is fresh delay.

The government announced a Global Travel Taskforce to work “with industry on how to safely reduce the self-isolation period with testing” on October 7.

It will be chaired by transport secretary Grant Shapps and health secretary Matt Hancock, and report to the PM with “recommendations” by early November.

The terms of reference make clear the industry will be consulted but won’t have representatives on the taskforce. They also make clear: “The travel corridor process and related policy will not be within the scope of the taskforce” – ruling out consideration of Foreign Office advice and regional corridors.

The taskforce will comprise officials from the departments of transport, health, business, culture, local government, international trade, the Treasury, the Foreign Office, the Home Office, Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace.

It “will liaise with the travel sector” and consult representatives of the transport and tourism sectors, “international partners”, local business leaders, the private testing sector, academia and policy institutes.

A senior airline source described the taskforce announcement as “underwhelming”, noting: “The questions are how extensive is the testing? What is the release time [from quarantine]? And how quickly can this be got going?

A second airline source said: “We’re pleased they’ve not locked it down to one solution. The immediate plan is for quarantine and release, but they’ve not ruled out predeparture testing. The number-one ask is that this isn’t protracted.”

However, another aviation source said: “There is a lot of cynicism. Is the early November date hard and fast? When will the PM make a decision? It’s a commitment to testing. That’s a step in the right direction. But if it doesn’t deliver, that’s all it is.”

Immediately following the announcement last week, Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee hailed the announcement as “a welcome first step”, but said: “We’ve been talking about testing since June.”

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye gave the taskforce a “November 1 deadline to safeguard jobs”. And UK Board of Airline Representatives chief executive Dale Keller said: “This far into the crisis, airlines expected more than an announcement of a taskforce.”

Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said warned: “There is a tidal wave of business failures coming. The government has created an impossible trading environment.”

The government said the initial proposals would be for “a single test taken after a period of self-isolation, provided by the private sector at the cost of the passenger”.

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