Last updated at 07.57 on Tuesday, November 24
The government says quarantine will be reduced by “up to two thirds” as it confirmed a testing strategy for travellers arriving into England is to be introduced from December 15.
Arrivals from countries not on the UK’s travel corridor list will have the option to take a test after five days of self-isolation, with a negative result meaning they no longer need to isolate.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps did not confirm which type of tests would be accepted as part of the plan when making the long-awaited announcement, but on Tuesday morning he told the BBC that a range of tests could be used as long as they met agreed specifications.
He also said that the cost of tests offered by a yet-to-be published list of approved suppliers ranged from £65-£120, and said he expected costs to be driven down “as the market gets going”.
The type of tests accepted would impact the overall length of quarantine, with PCR test results taking up to two days to be returned as they require lab analysis, while other tests have much quicker turnarounds.
Shapps also revealed that he wanted to scrap quarantine entirely by replacing it with daily coronavirus tests.
He told The Telegraph he wanted to move to a rapid-testing regime in the new year, which would mean travellers arriving in the UK would no longer have to self-isolate.
He said that he believed this could be achieved through daily “lateral flow” tests that are being used in mass testing pilot schemes in Liverpool and other cities and which provide results within 30 minutes.
Shapps told the newspaper: “It’s a third of the time, so I think the travel industry will benefit massively. A lot of people I have spoken to want to travel but can’t afford to self-isolate for two weeks. That changes when it is five or six days or even seven days. So I think this will open the door to people looking to travel.
“I also think it is a stepping stone to the next stage which is lateral flow testing so you don’t have to quarantine at all. You just test every day for a week. We know that is coming but we’re not going to get that going until the new year and then finally there will be the vaccine to take us out of this.”
Those opting-in to the scheme have to book and pay for a Covid-19 test from a private provider on a government-approved list. The regime will not involve NHS Test and Trace. It is open to passengers arriving by aircraft, ferry or train, who must book their test before they travel and complete a passenger locator form. Those choosing to opt-out must quarantine for 14 days.
Tests must not be taken at the passengers’ port of arrival – only after five days of self-isolation.
Making the announcement to reduce quarantine, Shapps, said: “We have a plan in place to ensure that our route out of this pandemic is careful and balanced, allowing us to focus on what we can now do to bolster international travel while keeping the public safe.
“Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business. By giving people the choice to test on day five, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic.”
In its announcement, it mentioned a “a wide range in approaches” to testing arrivals from other countries, noting: “Both Germany and Iceland initially rolled out schemes involving a single test on arrival and no self-isolation – both countries have subsequently revised their approaches due to testing capacity and levels of imported cases, and now require tests to be taken after five or six days of isolation.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Ensuring that safe travel is possible has been a priority for the Global Travel Taskforce. This test on day five of the 14-day self-solation period will identify positive coronavirus cases and allow those who test negative to return to work and see their loved ones while abiding by domestic coronavirus restrictions.
“This will be done at the cost of the traveller to protect the capacity of NHS Test and Trace and ensure that any UK resident who has symptoms is able to get a test.”
The government said its Global Travel Taskforce report, recently presented to the prime minister, also “sets out a pathway to restarting the cruise sector” but did not provide specific details.
It said recommendations are based on advice from a consortium of experts from the aviation, maritime, international rail, tourism and hospitality industries.
The ‘Test to Release’ scheme was announced at the same time as a government financial support for English airports and ground handlers covering fixed costs of up to £8 million per site. The support, equivalent to the business rates liabilities of each business, and subject to conditions, is to begin in the new year.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “The aviation industry is vital to our economy – creating jobs and driving growth- which is why we have supported them throughout this crisis through the job retention scheme, loans and tax deferrals.
“This new package of support for airports, alongside a new testing regime for international arrivals, will help the sector take off once again as we build back better from the pandemic.”
The government said evidence demonstrates that a test after five days of self-isolation provides “materially better results” than tests on arrival “as it allows time for the virus, should it be present, to incubate helping reduce the risk of a false negative result”.