The quarantine restrictions for Britons returning to the UK could be reduced to one week, as pressure mounts on the Government to unveil a testing regime to unlock international travel.
The Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said he is “hopeful” that testing for international travellers could be implemented by December 1, cutting quarantine from 14 days to approximately one week.
Speaking yesterday at the aviation conference Airlines 2050, the Transport Secretary outlined plans for “a single test for international arrivals, a week after arrival”.
So how exactly would this work? How much would it cost you? And when will it realistically come into force? Here we explain it all.
How would the seven-day quarantine work?
In theory, travellers would self-isolate for seven days after their return from holiday, before taking a single Covid-19 test. If the result was negative, their quarantine would end.
The testing plan would be “based on a single test, provided by the private sector, and at the cost to the passenger after a period of self isolation,” said Shapps.
How much would it cost?
Typically, private Covid-19 tests cost anywhere from £100 to £200. The cost of this single test would come at the expense of the holidaymaker.
Here’s everything you need to know about getting a PCR test for your holiday.
When will quarantine be reduced?
When questioned whether he thinks the regime could be implemented by December 1, Grant Shapps replied “I do” – but emphasised that the supply of tests would be dependent on private sector capacity.
“Public Health England will set a quality for the test itself, and then it will be down to the private sector to provide a test up to that quality,” he added.
“I’m hopeful that this will happen very quickly. It will now depend on the industry’s ability to provide [tests]. I don’t want to over-promise for something that isn’t in my hands directly.”
In addition to this domestic ‘test and release’ approach, Shapps also outlined ideas for an international approach, which “could involve a series of tests, […] quarantine before or after flight, or a combination of the two. Or, ultimately, if the technology is there, no quarantine at all – in return for, perhaps, daily rapid tests.”
Are there any snags?
One question mark is whether labs will be able to deal with the pressure.
Nick Burnett, co-founder & director at C19 Testing, said: ”Whilst we welcome the reduced quarantine period, this will add some pressure to the existing labs in the UK that perform PCR testing at a time when cold and flu season starts to peak. As a result, we’d expect demand to increase from anxiety and/or curiosity, travellers, and of course Covid symptomatic individuals. Labs have learnt some hard lessons during summer and are in better positions but complications will occur. After all, this virus has a stubbornly strong ability to hang around.
“An alternative option, available to employers and healthcare companies, is to offer rapid antigen tests using healthcare professional support, which has the potential to screen people faster and cheaper. However, the Government has only been endorsing PCR thus far which really does slow the testing process down.”
Does this mean we can go on holiday again?
Holidaymakers seem optimistic with the news. In a Twitter poll, Telegraph Travel readers said they would be more likely to go on holiday if the quarantine is reduced to seven days.
Some 56.3 per cent of respondents said that they can stomach a weeklong quarantine, while 43.7 per cent said it is still not worth it.
According to a new poll by Skyscanner, 78 per cent of travellers said halving the quarantine time from 14 to 7 days on return to the UK from certain countries would make them more likely to travel abroad.
In a previous poll, 69 per cent said they would be prepared to pay for a test in order to be able to travel and avoid quarantine on return
Is the travel industry happy with this news?
There has been a more hesitant response from the industry. Liam McKay, Director of Corporate Affairs at London City Airport, has said that while reducing the self-isolation period for inbound travellers is welcome, the Government must follow up by scrapping the quarantine policy entirely in favour of testing.
“We welcome anything that will reduce the 14-day quarantine. However, we hope that when the Global Travel Taskforce reports back to the Prime Minister at the start of November that they set out a roadmap for how testing can reduce, and ultimately replace, the need for passengers to quarantine. That would provide both our industry and the economy with a much needed shot in the arm.”
British Airways’ new CEO, Sean Doyle, said: “At British Airways, we do not believe that quarantine is the solution. We believe the best way to reassure people is to produce a reliable and affordable test before flying; this approach reduces the stress on the NHS testing systems within the UK, and on policing the quarantine system.
“We need to get our industry moving again, and this just isn’t possible without testing in place. If we look abroad to our near neighbours, we see that business travel and tourism is being prioritised by some countries.
Telegraph Travel’s Oliver Smith has spoken out against the Government’s approach to testing. He writes: “Its dithering has been interminable. We were promised that tests for international arrivals would finally be given the green light at the start of October. The travel industry rejoiced. But all we got was the launch of a blasted ‘taskforce’ to examine the options, with any concrete changes postponed until November at the earliest. For heaven’s sake.
“Here’s a simple plan for travel that could save the industry and would have a minimal impact on our infection rate. Ditch quarantine, except for arrivals from countries with a higher case rate than ours,” he added.
We have been promised a testing solution for some time. Maybe hold fire on clicking ‘book’ on a winter holiday to a red-listed destination, until we have more solid reassurances from the Government.
The Telegraph has been campaigning for a comprehensive testing regime, to eliminate quarantine and get travel back off the ground. Read all of our Test4Travel features, here.