LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s transport minister said on Wednesday that his coronavirus testing plans would get more people flying in the months ahead, sounding an optimistic note at a time when travel companies are struggling to survive.
A 14-day quarantine for arrivals from most countries could be replaced by an as-yet unspecified shorter isolation period followed by a negative test result under plans that Transport Minister Grant Shapps set out last week.
“I believe the measures I’ve outlined will result in significantly more people flying in the months ahead,” Shapps told a virtual ABTA travel industry association event.
Airlines have cut back their already anaemic flying schedules for autumn due to mounting travel restrictions in Europe.
Shapps said the government was working hard to get the new arrivals regime in place and much of the work had already been done, with another approach also being considered for pre-departure testing. Final details due in early November.
British Airways said in a statement it backed pre-flight testing, “where travellers arriving in the UK all have a negative test up to 72 hours before flying”.
But the International Air Transport Association has said the plan does not go far enough, because 80% of travellers will not fly it there is any quarantine in place.Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss told the event that a travel testing regime was urgently needed.
After a 1.2 billion pound rescue and nearly 5,000 job cuts, Virgin is prepared for a severe downturn which continues into next year, but he warned that beyond that there would be airline failures.
“At some point if borders do not open up … there’s only a certain amount of time that you can survive,” Weiss said.
ABTA, representing 4,300 UK travel brands, urged the government to provide more support. Shapps said his focus was on enabling travel through “test and release”.
He said a recovery plan for the aviation industry would be set out later this autumn.
Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by Kevin Liffey/Jane Merriman and Emelia Sithole-Matarise