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Published on Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Airport Covid test 'could save almost 2 million UK jobs'


World Travel & Tourism Council President & CEO Gloria Guevara has welcomed news of the first Covid tests at London Heathrow Airport, saying they could save 1.93 million jobs in the UK.

She said almost 20 million jobs across Europe could be saved, including 1.93m in Germany, 1.91m in Italy and 1.5m in France.

Heathrow has begun offering pre-flight tests from Terminals 2 and 5 for passengers flying to Hong Kong and Italy.

But the rapid swab tests, which give results within an hour, aren't accepted as proof the passenger isn't suffering from Covid by several countries, including Cyprus.

Also, they aren't being offered to arriving passengers since the UK government has ruled out airport testing as a means to reduce the 14-day quarantine period for those returning from high-risk countries.

Nevertheless, Ms Guevara said: "It is very encouraging to see the door beginning to open to allow airport testing on departure. We have been calling for a rapid and cost-effective testing on departure regime at airports around the world for several months now, so this is a step in the right direction.

"Latest WTTC research shows the positive effect airport testing will have to revive international air travel, bring back jobs and resuscitate the global economy.

"That is why we support the introduction of schemes at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports in Paris, Heathrow in London and the recent trial which took place between Rome's Fiumicino Airport and Milan Linate. We hope this will inspire other countries to follow their lead and implement similar initiatives."

Standardisation is 'crucial'

However, she said the global travel and tourism sector needs a standardised international testing protocol.

"Full cooperation and coordination are crucial to restore seamless travel and remove ineffective and costly quarantines," she added.

"Removing or significantly reducing quarantine times, already introduced by some countries, could restore vital international business travel, first on short-haul flights and then between important financial hubs, such as Frankfurt, London and New York and other key transatlantic services," she said.

"With the commercial aviation sector hanging in the balance, it is more important than ever that we explore every practical avenue to speed up airport testing through targeted pilots."

Cost must come down, say pilots

British pilots' association BALPA has welcomed first steps on airport testing but says it needs to be more widespread and cheaper.

It should be be available to all travellers at all airports and should be part of a wider system to replace the current quarantine system, it said.

BALPA General SecretaryBrian Strutton added: "It's a step forward, but we still have miles to go. The travelling public need a comprehensive, easy to understand system to replace the chaotic, everchanging, confusing travel corridors and quarantine systems.

"The tests also need to be cheaper if we want to see a widespread uptake amongst business and leisure passengers.

"The progress to this point, in terms of support for UK aviation, has been far too slow. Global travel remains acutely impacted by coronavirus and it needs help now. BALPA urges the Government to act swiftly to support aviation by backing the roll out of a proper, fully comprehensive airport testing scheme."

'Dither and delay'

The TSSA union, which represents many airline cabin crew, accused the government of 'dither and delay' after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced it could be December before a testing regime is launched to reduce the 14-day quarantine for UK arrivals from high risk countries.

General Secretary Manuel Cortes said: "Waiting another six weeks before we see a change in the quarantine regime is yet more dither and delay from this Tory Government which is fond of promising jam tomorrow.

"We need action now to kickstart our travel sector which has been so badly hit by this pandemic. This must go well beyond a system which reduces testing or any self-isolation period.

"It's almost two weeks since Shapps launched what he called a 'Global Travel Task Force' and since then we have seen nothing which suggests ministers understand that wider support measures, including a dedicated Minister for Travel, are needed to save thousands of jobs in the sector.

"Our union welcomes anything which might provide travellers with clarity while at the same time assisting public confidence. However, we already know that far too many travel businesses have gone to the wall and many of our members have lost their jobs.

"What's needed now is proper long-term support to tackle this crisis head on. I stand ready to offer ministers help in this matter."


By Linsey McNeill, Editor (UK)

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