The UK Government has launched a Global Travel Taskforce with the aim of supporting the travel industry and the safe recovery of international travel. The Government’s Department for Transport and Department of Health and Social Care have been working with clinicians, health experts and the private testing sector to work out the practicalities of testing international arrivals for SARS-CoV- 2.
The next step, according to the Government, is to develop an operationalised approach, with the taskforce working “at pace” with industry on implementation and identifying options to reduce the current 14-day 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 work 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 with the private testing sector to ensure that testing for international arrivals does not impact on the country’s national health service (NHS) capacity. The team will also explore alternative testing models, including pilot projects 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 Covid-19 pandemic.
Heathrow Airport’s CEO, John Holland-Kaye, welcomed the news, stating, “The Government’s Global Travel Taskforce is a great step forward, but needs to act quickly to save the millions of UK jobs that rely on aviation. Implementing “test and release” after five days of quarantine would kickstart the economy. But the government could show real leadership by working with the US to develop a Common International Standard for pre-departure testing that would mean that only Covid-free passengers are allowed to travel from high-risk countries.”
ADS, a UK trade organisation representing the aerospace sectors, with more than 1,100 member businesses, also welcomed the news. ADS chief executive Paul Everitt said: “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.”
The UK’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps stated, “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,” he added.
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 factors including 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; and more broadly, what steps can be taken to increase consumer confidence to support the recovery of international travel.
The UK 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.”