Start date for Covid travel tests ‘depends on private providers’

The speed at which a Covid-test regime is in place for travel depends on the extent of private testing capacity, transport secretary Grant Shapps said today.

Speaking at an Airlines 2050 online summit, Shapps said: “We have agreed on a regime based on a single test after a period of isolation – a single test a week after arrival.

“The next step will be to develop how to implement that. We’re also looking at self-isolation before departure.”

He told the summit: “This is the implementation phase. We’ve worked through all these problems before setting up the Global Travel Taskforce. We know we don’t need two tests. We do need to know someone has been tested.

“We know it is going to have to come from private capacity and passengers are going to have to pay.

“Public Health England will set a quality test for the testing itself. It’s up to the private sector to meet that. I’m hopeful it will happen very quickly, but I don’t want to overpromise. It’s the testing sector that has to deliver capacity.

“As long as the capacity is there – and they tell us it is – I’m hopeful. We’re talking to more than a dozen different providers.”

He added: “I’m very keen to ensure people can safely travel, but we can’t have travel being responsible for further outbreaks.”

Shapps told the summit: “We know how much the sector is hurting.”

He insisted: “We’ve worked incredibly fast since we set this taskforce up. We had a symposium at the beginning and we’ll have one at the end. In between, we’re talking to hundreds of organisations.

“We are already very well advanced on this.”

He argued: “This is a domestic regime. We don’t need international agreement to do it. The second part is an international regime working with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

“We’re taking to the US. That could involve a series of tests before and after travel. But that requires international cooperation.”

Shapps said: “There is no shortage of desire to get this done. On the domestic side, the work of the taskforce will go to the Prime Minister in early November and we’ll hear then when it will be implemented.

“On the international side, it requires international cooperation. We’ll try to get this set up with the US. We’re trying to get this moving as quickly as possible, but it depends on international agreements. I’m afraid I can’t predict when.”

Up to now, he said: “We’ve had to be cautious. Even now we know the situation would be very much worse if we had not taken a prudent approach in the summer.”

Shapps told the summit “I know some people promote the idea we should test at borders. But the chief medical officer has made clear that could allow a very significant number of people to think they are negative when they are not.

“Public Health England and the London School of Tropical Medicine have considered this. It would be a disaster for the travel industry.”

Referring to modelling used by the government that suggests a single test on arrival might only pick up 7% of asymptomatic infections among arriving passengers, Shapps said: “I know people are saying the 7% is not true. I’m afraid we have gone to a lot of lengths to know.

“Remember, symptomatic passengers should not be travelling. This is about asymptomatic passengers.”

He argued: “Germany and France thought they would be able to use a day-zero test and found it not a feasible thing to do. If you look at the situation in France, we see that.”

Asked about a financial aid package for aviation, Shapps told the summit: “We don’t take the view of some other countries to have endless sums of money just going into unreformed industries.”

But he promised “more on this” in an aviation recovery plan “in the autumn”.

On the impact of Brexit on flights from January 1, he said: “I’m afraid I can’t answer on the detail. It’s all bound up with will there be a wider deal. We very much hope we’ll have a deal in place.

“Previously there was a stop-gap arrangement and we’re confident that will carry on this time.”

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