England to implement new strategy for testing international arrivals
The strategy will work to support the aviation industry’s recovery by limiting travellers’ required self-isolation period upon entering England after travelling to countries not featured on the UK government’s travel corridor list.
Passengers arriving into England will be able to reduce mandatory self-isolation by up to a week or more, as the UK government launches its new strategy for testing international arrivals.
The UK’s Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has announced that, from 15 December 2020, passengers arriving into England from countries not featured on the UK government’s travel corridor list will have the option to take a test after five days of self-isolation, with a negative result releasing them from the need to isolate.
The move will give passengers the confidence to book international trips in the knowledge that they can return home and isolate for a shorter period if they have received a negative test. With those opting into the scheme having to book and pay for a COVID-19 test from a private provider on the gov.uk list, the government is ensuring that the NHS Test and Trace testing capacity is protected.
Under the ‘Test to release for international travel’ strategy, passengers arriving into England by plane, ferry or train should book their test before they travel; must complete a passenger locator form; and will still need to self-isolate for five days before taking a test – rather than taking it at their port of arrival.
The UK’s Transport Secretary, Grant 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.”
The ‘Test to Release’ scheme has been announced as the UK government introduces new financial support for English airports and the ground handlers serving them. This support, which will shore up jobs and reinforce local economies, will be available to commercial airports in England. The support will address fixed costs and be equivalent to the business rates liabilities of each business, capped at up to £8 million per site, and subject to certain conditions. This scheme will open in 2021.
Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the UK, 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 UK government has considered the evidence which demonstrates that a test after five days of self-isolation provides materially better results than just having a test on arrival, as it allows time for the virus, should it be present, to incubate, helping to reduce the risk of a false negative result.
Many countries have not implemented testing regimes at the border. Of those that have, a wide range in approaches have been chosen, some of which have evolved over time. 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.
The UK’s Health and Social Care 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.”
Passengers will be able to book a test from a provider on a gov.uk list before arriving in England. If they choose to book a test, they will need to state this on their passenger locator form prior to arriving and then go straight into self-isolation at home, as usual. If they choose to opt in after arrival, they will need to resubmit their passenger locator form.
They can then take a test on or after day five of the isolation period, either at home or at a private provider’s testing site, and, on receipt of a negative result, can immediately finish self-isolating and return to following domestic rules.
Those choosing not to take a test when arriving from a non-exempt country must continue to follow the current self-isolation requirements (two weeks).
The testing strategy is one outcome of the UK government’s Global Travel Taskforce report that was recently presented to the UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, which also sets out a pathway to restarting the cruise sector.
The recommendations are based on advice from a consortium of expert representatives from the aviation, maritime, international rail, tourism and hospitality industries to boost international travel for all modes, whilst safeguarding public health in England and the UK.
The UK government will also continue to work with international partners and representatives across the transport industries to further build on the recommendations in the report, including exploring pre-departure testing pilots with partner countries on a bilateral basis.
Airport Operators Association (AOA)
Commenting on the announcement of a test and release system for international travellers and new financial support for English airports, the Airport Operators Association’s Chief Executive, Karen Dee, said: “UK airports have been amongst the hardest-hit sectors by the pandemic, and these announcements are a much-needed boost as aviation looks to bounce back from the greatest challenge that it has ever faced.”
“We welcome the work of the Global Travel Taskforce. A robust test-and-release system will boost the safe restart of international travel, increase consumer confidence and pave the way towards an open Global Britain. We look forward to building on this big step forward by working with the Taskforce on the future opportunities outlined – such as pre-departure tests and the use of cheaper and faster testing methods – to make international travel ever easier and ultimately eliminate any need for quarantine altogether.”
“Alongside this, we are pleased that the government has listened to our calls for business rates relief for airports in England. The measures announced today will provide much-needed support to many embattled airports, helping them through the challenging months ahead.”
“However, not all airports will see full business rates relief and all of aviation will continue to face considerable challenges over the coming months and years. We will, therefore, need to continue to work with government on what other steps can be taken to safeguard the UK’s aviation businesses.”
London Heathrow Airport (LHR)
Heathrow Airport’s CEO, John Holland-Kaye, said: “Today’s announcement can kickstart the UK’s economic recovery and help the many businesses that rely on international trade to plan with confidence and protect jobs. The UK government’s testing strategy has the potential to become world leading. We encourage Ministers to use this as a platform to move to regular testing as an alternative to quarantine and the introduction of a Common International Standard for pre-departure testing, which will allow international travel to get back to normal as soon as possible.”
London City Airport (LCY)
Commenting on the UK government’s announcement of a Test and Release scheme in England to shorten the quarantine period for international arrivals, Robert Sinclair, Chief Executive of London City Airport, said: “After some of the most difficult months in the history of our industry, today’s announcement from government on a test and release process to reduce quarantine is most welcome and shows that there is now some light at the end of the tunnel. In particular, it is great news for passengers around the world planning their journeys back to the UK to see their loved ones for Christmas.”
“It is now vital that the UK government, international partners and industry work together to capitalise on this positive momentum and establish a fast and cost-effective screening protocol that removes the requirement for quarantine altogether.”
Liverpool John Lennon Airport (LPL)
CEO of Liverpool John Lennon Airport, John Irving, said: “We are naturally pleased to hear that the government has recognised the need to help our industry, and this is an encouraging step in the right direction. However, further improvements to this test and release system will still need to be made in order to see passengers return to flying in far greater numbers. In the short term, cheaper and quicker tests are needed and to ultimately eliminate any need for quarantine altogether.”
“With airlines planning to operate flights to over 30 destinations from Liverpool in the run up to Christmas, today’s announcement will make it more attractive for passengers looking to travel from here over the coming weeks.”
“The government’s decision to also provide some long awaited financial support specific to our industry is welcome news, too. This much needed financial assistance is vital as we look to face the challenging months ahead and hopefully see the start of what will undoubtedly be a slow recovery.”
All Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation
Commenting on the announcement of a testing strategy of international arrivals, Henry Smith, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation, said: “The announcement of a COVID-19 testing regime for international travellers is positive news for our aviation, travel and tourism sectors; it will allow the restart commercial air travel with confidence once restrictions are lifted. It also provides much needed clarity and certainty, which will be essential to these sectors’ recovery from the deeply damaging effects of this pandemic.”
“I am grateful to the government and the Global Travel Taskforce for listening to the calls for testing made by industry and from all sides of the political divide. It is essential for ensuring that global Britain is open for business and today’s announcement will be warmly welcomed by all.”
“UK-wide, the pandemic’s impact continues to be devastating on airport communities, as well as the aviation, travel and tourism sectors as a whole, but today’s announcement is a very important step in helping these sectors to recover and to play their full role in our national economic recovery.”