Britons could be allowed to make quarantine-free holidays with the help of quick coronavirus tests, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.
In a speech to the Airport Operators Association on Monday, the cabinet minister told the air industry that the current trial of new, rapid turnaround tests in Liverpool offered “hope for optimism”.
And, with England due to exit its second national lockdown on 2 December, Mr Shapps also outlined the more immediate aim of a “much-reduced period of self-isolation” for travellers due to new arrivals procedures.
Under England’s current lockdown rules, foreign holidays are banned and those in breach of the restrictions face penalties starting at £200 and increasing to a maximum of £6,400.
During the summer, many Britons were able to enjoy trips abroad thanks to the establishment of “travel corridors” with a number of countries.
However, as the second wave of COVID-19 infections continues to spread, many of those countries have now been removed from the exemption list and most arrivals to the UK once again have to self-isolate for 14 days.
In his speech, Mr Shapps suggested the world was currently in “perhaps the darkest hour for aviation”.
But he stressed that “much-reduced” quarantine periods could soon be on the way, once lockdown is over.
“I want you to know that we’ve been making good progress on a ‘test to release’ programme to launch once we’re out of lockdown,” he said.
“This will consist of a single test for arrivals into the UK, provided by the private sector and at the cost of the passenger,” Mr Shapps said.
“Allowing a much-reduced period of self isolation.
“Beyond the lockdown, this should encourage many more people to book flights with confidence knowing there is an option that allows them to shorten self-isolation.”
Mr Shapps said he would report to Prime Minister Boris Johnson “very soon” with plans to “support the recovery of international tourism and travel and increase consumer confidence”.
The transport secretary also said the government was working with other countries to help establish an “international standard” for self-isolation and testing rules when travelling.
On the prospect of complete quarantine-free travel, Mr Shapps added that “the type of lateral flow tests currently being trialled in Liverpool also give hope for optimism”.
“This is a highly accurate swab test that gives results in less than an hour, and doesn’t need to go to a lab,” he said.
“Ultimately, it could open the way for non-quarantined air travel.
“The primary solution to the aviation crisis is getting passengers flying safely again.
“Ultimately through the development of an effective vaccine but, before that, through effective testing.”