MIAMI – Air passengers arriving into England will be able to reduce mandatory self-isolation by at least a week, as the government launches its new strategy for testing international arrivals.

On the website yesterday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that beginning December 15, 2020, passengers arriving into England from countries not included in the government’s travel corridor list can opt to take a test after five days of self-isolation. A negative result will release them from the need to isolate.

The government hopes the plan will give passengers the confidence to book international trips knowing that they can return home and isolate for a shorter period if they test negative. And, as those who opt in to the testing and book and pay for the CCOVID-19 test from a private provider on the list, it is ensured that the NHS Test and Trace testing capacity is protected.

Official portrait of Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP. Photo: Wiki Commons

Safely Rebuilding Travel

Under the ‘test to release for international travel’ strategy, passengers arriving into England by plane, ferry, or train should book their test before they travel; must complete a passenger locator form; and will still need to self-isolate for five days before taking a test, rather than taking it at their port of arrival.

Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said, “We have a plan in place to ensure that our route out of this pandemic is careful and balanced, allowing us to focus on what we can now do to bolster international travel while keeping the public safe.

“Our new testing strategy will allow people to travel more freely, see loved ones, and drive international business. By giving people the choice to test on day five, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic.

Picture source: Gatwick Airport

New Government Financial Support

The ‘Test to Release’ scheme comes as the government introduces new financial support for English airports and ground handlers serving them. This support, which will shore up jobs and reinforce local economies, will be available to commercial airports in England. It will address fixed costs and be equivalent to the business rates liabilities of each business, capped at up to £8m (US$10.67m) per site, and subject to certain conditions. This plan will begin in 2021.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said, “The aviation industry is vital to our economy – creating jobs and driving growth – which is why we have supported them throughout this crisis through the job retention scheme, loans and tax deferrals.

“This new package of support for airports, alongside a new testing regime for international arrivals, will help the sector take off once again as we build back better from the pandemic.

“The government has considered the evidence which demonstrates that a test after five days of self-isolation provides materially better results than just having a test on arrival, as it allows time for the virus, should it be present, to incubate, helping reduce the risk of a false-negative result.”

Those choosing not to take a test when arriving from a non-exempt country must continue to follow the current self-isolation requirements (two weeks). The recommendations are based on advice from a consortium of expert representatives from the aviation, maritime, international rail, tourism, and hospitality industries to boost international travel for all modes, while safeguarding public health in the UK.

The government will also continue to work with international partners and representatives across the transport industries to further build on the recommendations in the report, including exploring pre-departure testing pilots with partner countries on a bilateral basis.

Featured image: ‘Slipstream’ by Richard Wilson at Heathrow Terminal 2 London London. Photo: David Levene