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Published on Friday, January 8, 2021

Airline bodies warn mandatory testing must not become long-term solution

Airline bodies have insisted the requirement for international passengers to show a negative Covid test should only be a short-term measure while vaccines are rolled out.

Airlines UK Chief Executive Tim Alderslade said it recognised the need for action but warned it must be regarded as an 'emergency' measure.

"We recognise the UK Government's need to act now and support the introduction of pre-departure testing in order to keep the country safe and borders open," he said.

"However, this should be a short-term, emergency measure only and once the roll-out of the vaccine accelerates, the focus must be on returning travel to normal as quickly as possible in order to support the UK's economic recovery

"This includes removing the need to quarantine or test as the UK population is vaccinated and the virus is brought under control at home and abroad.

"Ultimately, cheaper and quicker testing is required to ensure travel can be accessible while testing is required but then needs to be unwound once vaccinations and the overall threat of Covid recedes." 

Heathrow Airport Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye described the continuation of quarantine in addition to a negative Covid test as a 'belt and brace approach'.   

"We welcome measures that are going to get this virus under control….if this will help then so be it," he told the BBC.

"But we have always argued for pre-departure testing as an alternative to quarantine and because we are now going to have both this is a really belt and braces approach. It can only be a temporary measure. Very few people will travel with this in place.

"Aviation is vital to us as a small island trading nation and a lot of our supply chain and exports go by air, largely in the holds of passenger planes. Unless we can get those passenger planes moving we are really not going to get the UK economy moving."

"We need to see a road map coming out of this. Either that could be a change to these restrictions as the vaccinations take off or it could be a move towards daily testing as an alternative to quarantine.

"There needs to be a plan as to how to make this just a temporary measure."

Gatwick Airport Chief executive Stewart Wingate said: "We have long been an advocate of pre-departure testing and today's Government announcement brings us in line with many other countries and closer to having a consistent, internationally coordinated pre-departure testing regime.

"When current lockdown restrictions are eased, and infection rates decrease, pre-departure testing could ultimately encourage frequent international travel to restart by eliminating the need for arriving passengers to quarantine."

He added that tests must be affordable and that the arrangements are 'withdrawn at the earliest opportunity when public health conditions permit'.

The Board of Airline Representatives said it 'broadly' welcomed the testing requirements but also stressed it must not become a long-term demand of international travellers.

Chief Executive Dale Keller said: "Airlines have widely supported the introduction of pre-departure testing for many months and we recognise that the public will welcome this critical measure at the current time.

"However, it is vital that the lockdown period is utilised to develop a well-coordinated path towards easing travel restrictions at the earliest opportunity once the threat recedes, in particular the requirement to self-isolate for 10 days after arrival in the UK, and to review the 'Test to Release' option after five days.

"As the vaccination programme gathers pace and the most vulnerable are protected, it is vital that international travel is normalised through removing layered or conflicting measures that do not achieve the necessary balance to protect public health, restore confidence and rebuild the aviation and travel sector."

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