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UK government launches taskforce to support travel industry’s recovery

The UK government’s Global Travel Taskforce will work to develop an operationalised approach for testing international arrivals.

UK government launches taskforce to support travel industry's recovery

A new Global Travel Taskforce to support the travel industry and the safe recovery of international travel has been launched by the UK government. 

The Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have been working extensively with clinicians, health experts and the private testing sector on the practicalities of testing international arrivals. 

The next step is to develop an operationalised approach, which is why the UK government is creating the Global Travel Taskforce – to work at pace with industry on implementation and to identify options to reduce the self-isolation period while protecting public health. 

The taskforce will accelerate work to inform proposals on a future testing regime and develop options for how this could be introduced.

This will include looking at the feasibility of proposals based on a single test taken after a period of self-isolation, provided by the private sector and at the cost of the passenger. The taskforce will work with medical experts to better understand when a test should be taken based on the progression of the disease. The taskforce will also work closely with the private testing sector to ensure that testing for international arrivals does not impact National Health Service (NHS) capacity. 

It will also explore alternative testing models, including pilots with partner countries to ascertain whether self-isolation could be undertaken pre-departure.

The taskforce, which will be jointly chaired by the Secretaries of State for Transport and Health and Social Care – Grant Shapps and Matt Hancock, respectively – will also consider other options to boost safe and sustainable tourism and business travel, supporting the sector in its recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UK’s Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “The current measures at the border have saved lives. Our understanding of the science now means that we can intensify efforts to develop options for a testing regime and help reinvigorate our world-leading travel sector. This new taskforce will not only help us move towards safer, smoother international travel as we continue to battle this virus, but will also support global connectivity – helping facilitate more COVID-19 secure travel whilst protecting the population from imported cases.”

The UK’s Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “It is vital that we do everything we can to control the spread of the virus, and our measures at the borders are designed to help keep the country safe by preventing imported cases of COVID-19. We know how these measures have a significant impact on people’s lives and on the travel and tourism industries, so we are working hard across government to explore ways to open up international travel in a safe way.”

The group will consult closely with partners from the aviation, travel, healthcare and testing sectors, as well as the devolved administrations, to implement measures to support the recovery of the travel sector. The taskforce is expected to put forward their initial recommendations in November 2020.

The taskforce will consider: 

  • How a testing regime for international arrivals could be implemented to boost safe travel to and from the UK 
  • What steps can be taken to facilitate business and tourist travel through innovative testing models and other non-testing means
  • More broadly, what steps can be taken to increase consumer confidence to support the recovery of international travel.     

The current rules around the 14-day self-isolation policy remain in place.

Industry responses

Airport Operators Association (AOA)

Chief Executive of the Airport Operators Association (AOA), Karen Dee, said: “Today’s announcement of a commitment to implement a testing system for international travel is a welcome first step. Airports will work with the UK government to get this up and running as soon as possible to allow our industry to begin its long recovery from the devastating impacts of the pandemic. A key focus for the taskforce also has to be the introduction of new rapid tests as soon as possible, both to make testing quicker and cheaper, as well as reducing the time passengers would need to isolate. Ultimately, the objective we must move towards is ending quarantine altogether through globally aligned testing system which will promote clarity and confidence in air travel while protecting public health.”

London Gatwick Airport (LGW)

Stewart Wingate, CEO of London Gatwick Airport (LGW), said: “We welcome the government’s Global Travel Taskforce for the implementation of a test and release scheme to allow reduced quarantine for travellers. The cost of a test must be easily affordable for passengers, easily accessible and be implemented quickly if it is to help ease current travel restrictions and help restore passenger confidence.”

“We urge the taskforce to engage in discussions regarding pre-departure testing solutions. The aviation industry across Europe is coalescing behind a single, harmonised approach to testing that would see quarantine lifted for passengers travelling between high risk countries if they receive a negative test result up to 72 hours before departure. A single pre-airport, pre-departure testing regime, based on existing risk criteria, would replace the current uncertainty of quarantine and patchwork of testing approaches which currently exists. It would safely open up most of the UK’s travel routes, help to reduce transmission of the virus and preserve thousands of aviation jobs. The taskforce should do everything possible to ensure an approved testing system ready for people to visit friends and family at Christmas,” he added.

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