Heathrow boss calls for passenger Covid-19 tests on arrival to save tourism season

29 July 2020, 06:05 | Updated: 29 July 2020, 08:39

The boss of Heathrow has called for tests for passengers on arrival
The boss of Heathrow has called for tests for passengers on arrival. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The boss of Heathrow Airport has called for passengers to be tested for Covid-19 on arrival in a trial to rescue the summer tourism season.

Heathrow Airport's chief executive John Holland-Kaye has urged the Government to help ease quarantine restrictions on passengers arriving from higher-risk countries with a scheme for coronavirus tests on landing.

On Wednesday morning the airport boss told LBC Heathrow had suffered a £1.1 billion loss in the first quarter of 2020, showing the "devastating" effect of Covid-19.

Mr Holland-Kaye said the UK as a "small island nation" needed to get goods and people moving again.

But his comments come as travellers to Belgium, Luxembourg and Croatia face quarantine measures on their return to England amid signs of a "second wave" of Covid-19 in Europe, which Boris Johnson warned could see further European nations lose their exempted status.

Read more: Quarantine could be cut to 10 days for holidaymakers returning to UK from Spain

The Times newspaper reported that quarantine for arrivals from Luxembourg and Belgium could begin as soon as tomorrow and Ministers are “keeping a close eye” on Croatia but restrictions are not expected imminently.

On Tuesday Mr Johnson said: “Let’s be absolutely clear about what’s happening in Europe. Among some of our European friends, I’m afraid you are starting to see in some places the signs of a second wave of the pandemic."

The Prime Minister triggered a diplomatic row with Spain by reimposing a warning against all but essential travel to the country and insisting travellers arriving in the UK from there spend 14 days in quarantine.

But he said ministers were looking at ways to mitigate the impact amid suggestions testing could be used to cut the time spent in isolation for those arriving from nations not exempted from the quarantine.

One idea floated is for passengers to be tested on arrival before being tested again a number of days later to confirm they are not infected with the virus. A second test could allow their quarantine to be shortened under the proposal.

Mr Holland-Kaye told the Telegraph he believed ministers are "very keen" on a trial at airports.

"We need to find a way of getting 'red countries' opened up again. Testing is the only viable way of doing that in the absence of a vaccine," he said.

"A lot of countries which are 'red-listed' have millions of people who don't have the disease and can't travel. That's holding back economic recovery."

Government advisers have warned it can take a number of days from infection before tests return a positive result, meaning testing negative on arrival does not mean the passenger will not develop symptoms later on.

But Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care are understood to have spoken with travel assistance company Collinson to understand the proposed testing pilot it is developing with Heathrow.

Preliminary modelling from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggested 94% of cases would be detected if the quarantine period was cut to eight days and passengers tested negative on the seventh.

Amid criticism from Spain for including lower risk regions in the quarantine restrictions, transport minister Baroness Vere of Norbiton said ways to impose more targeted restrictions were being examined.

"For the time being, we are taking the approach by country for border measures, but it is the case that it could be that we put them in place for regions in the future," she told the House of Lords.

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has described the restrictions on travel to the country as an "error".

He pointed out that the upsurge in coronavirus cases is focused in two regions, Catalonia and Aragon, adding: "In most of Spain, the incidence is very much inferior to even the numbers registered in the United Kingdom."

Madrid had been urging the UK to exclude the Canaries and Balearics - which include popular tourist resorts on Ibiza, Majorca and Menorca - from its quarantine requirements.

But instead, official travel advice was tightened to bring the islands in line with the Spanish mainland.

Britons make up over a fifth of foreign visitors to Spain, which relies heavily on tourism, and Madrid has said the UK Government gave it no warning that the quarantine move was coming over the weekend.

Labour accused ministers of a "chaotic" response and called for a flexible approach for struggling businesses to ensure that public health measures such as the change in quarantine rules for people returning from Spain do not lead to mass job losses.

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