The requirement for international travellers to provide proof of a negative pre-departure Covid test on arrival and still go into quarantine is likely to last at least until mid-March.
That is according to industry sources preparing to implement the new rules, who say there is a realisation the situation is “grim”.
A leading airline source said: “The government had to act, as have many countries. We’ll work with the government to get this brought in.”
But the source added: “We need a pathway out. Multiple layers [of restrictions] won’t allow the industry to restart. What will the regime look like post the vaccine ramp-up? Do we remove pre-departure testing or the need to self-isolate?”
Airlines have long called for pre-departure testing to replace quarantine. A second source said: “There is acceptance things are grim, so these requirements are necessary.
“But we need a pathway out – to manage cashflow, to be able to sell and to give people confidence to book – when restrictions ease.”
The test requirements will be subject to a 28-day review, with the source suggesting: “The first review will come up around mid-February. We’ll push to have something changed then if the medical situation allows, but that is unlikely given the situation, so it will probably be at least mid-March.”
The source added: “We hope we can agree on the steps. The dates might have to be fluid, but milestones should be possible to define.
“We have a minimum of four weeks, probably eight, to sort the policy and get it in place.”
The first source agreed: “We have a window to discuss what happens next. We need to know what the border looks like at the end of lockdown.
“No one should be travelling – it’s a case of survival now.”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps suggested at the weekend that quarantine may not be removed for some time, saying: “A test is a useful tool, but nowhere near as good as quarantine and self-isolation which is 100% [effective].”
The source said: “We believe testing can be equally as effective as relying on consumers to self-isolate. There is what looks good on a model and what works in the real world.”
Aviation minister Robert Courts confirmed on Monday that pre‑departure tests will be required for all arrivals to England from 4am on Friday, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland expected to follow suit.
Passengers must take a test up to three days before departure and provide evidence of a negative result before travel. Courts promised guidance on testing standards, but in most cases PCR will be required.
Operators may deny boarding to passengers without proof of a test and face fines for carrying those who fail to comply. Arrivals without a negative result will be fined £500.