U.K. Warns Airport Covid Tests Can’t Replace Local Quarantine

U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps downplayed the benefits of introducing Covid-19 testing at airports including London Heathrow, citing the lengthy quarantine period that would still be required.

In comments likely to come as a blow to the travel industry, Shapps said that while the government keeps coronavirus restrictions under review and is working with airports, the testing of travelers is “complicated” by the need for a second medical check a week or eight days later to ensure accuracy.

“In between time, guess what? You would need to quarantine,” Shapps told BBC Radio 4 on Friday when asked whether airport testing could replace the U.K. requirement for travelers to self-isolate for two weeks. “So you’re not removing quarantine entirely.”

Even using the tests to try to shorten the isolation period could be problematic, Shapps told Sky News in a separate interview, because there would need to be systems in place to ensure authorities are “testing the right person on that second time round.”

Carriers including British Airways and EasyJet Plc are pressing Britain to drop a self-isolation requirement they say is destroying demand in major markets like the U.S. and key tourism destinations such as France and Spain. Heathrow, usually Europe’s busiest airport, said in July it wanted to trial a testing procedure that could allow the quarantine period to be reduced.

‘Issues’

“We appreciate that there issues to work out but that is why we are trying to do a trial,” Heathrow spokesman Weston Macklem said in an interview. “Even if we could cut it to eight days that would be better than now.”

The gap between tests couldn’t be reduced to less than five days, regarded as the incubation period for the disease, Macklem said, though in future people might be able to have the first check three days before flying, requiring only two days of quarantine on arrival in Britain before the second one.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said this week the government is working on introducing tests at ports and airports, though he declined to set a time-frame.

‘False Hope

Shapps said that while he’s not telling airports testing won’t work, he doesn’t want to offer “false hope by saying it’s just as simple as a test at the airport,” because that “won’t tell you what you need to know.”

Heathrow is proposing a private testing service with swabs taken by nurses from Collinson Group at a facility run by ground-handling firm Swissport International AG. The tests would cost around 150 pounds ($197).

Germany, Iceland and Singapore are among countries already employing a similar system, Macklem said.

Ryanair Holdings Plc, which counts London Stansted as its biggest base, repeated calls for the U.K. quarantine policy to be dropped, saying in an email that it’s ineffective and should be replaced by a “more coherent and science-based approach” including airport testing and contact tracing.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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