A new Global Travel Taskforce to support the travel industry and the safe recovery of international travel has been launched by the UK Government.
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The Department for Transport and the Department of Health and Social Care 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 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 on 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, 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 coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said: "The current measures at the border have saved lives. Our understanding of the science now means 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 secure travel whilst protecting the population from imported cases.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: "It is vital 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 next month.
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.
ADS Chief Executive, Paul Everitt, said: "This announcement will be welcomed by the aviation and aerospace industries. A coordinated international effort is required to help these sectors recover from the impacts of the pandemic and 14-day quarantine.
“Testing can play a major role in reducing the quarantine period required of travellers. We urge the Government to ensure progress is made quickly and look forward to working with the taskforce in the coming weeks.”
Airport Operators Chief Executive, 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 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.
“We have been talking about testing since June and many other countries around the world are already successfully using it. We must start the operation of the scheme as quickly as practicalities allow so the UK is not left behind. We believe that from a health perspective a testing regime can be far preferable to just relying on quarantine.
“Since March UK airports have been forced to effectively shutdown to commercial traffic leaving our industry on its knees. Even with the existing Government support, the loss of revenue is enormous:
Heathrow has reported pre-tax losses for the first six months of 2020 of £1.1 billion
Gatwick has reported pre-tax losses the first six months of 2020 of £343million
Significant financial and job losses throughout the UK’s network of regional airports
Projections by the AOA show that up 110,000 airport and airport related jobs are at risk
“Today’s announcement must be the start of a renewed focus on our sector – it is essential that the Government bring forward the promised Aviation Recovery Package of support including business rates relief for airports in England and Wales, continuation of VAT-free sales airside, funding for the CAA and a temporary suspension of APD. These much-needed measures will help support our airports as they look to tackle the challenging winter months ahead.
“This announcement is positive and encouraging, but it is vital that the Government step up its support to protect our international connectivity.”
Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive of Airlines UK, the industry association representing UK-registered carriers, said: “That the Government is considering testing is a step forward but we need to see the detail. Ultimately we need to get to pre-departure testing for all arrivals in the UK – which is becoming the international norm – as soon as practically possible. Aviation is at a critical juncture and we have no time to lose, and we urge the Prime Minister to move quickly to get testing off the ground no later than the end of November so Britain does not lose further ground with its closest rivals.”