Airlines urge Covid-19 testing as regional corridors launched in England

Aviation industry leaders have urged the Government to commit to a coronavirus testing regime for international arrivals, after a new regional approach to England’s quarantine policy was announced.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that, should infection rates differ from their mainland countries, islands can be added to or removed from the quarantine list.

This policy change means that from 4am on Wednesday, arrivals from seven Greek islands will need to self-isolate for 14 days, but mainland Greece is to maintain its exemption.

While the move was largely welcomed by the travel industry, which has taken a hit during the pandemic, industry leaders urged action on testing for those arriving in the UK.

Airport Operators Association (AOA) chief executive Karen Dee said: “Industry has been calling for Government action on a testing regime for the aviation system for months while the sector has suffered through its worst summer in a generation.

“Government must work quickly and decide upon a testing regime which can be put in place as soon as possible.”

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, which represents UK carriers, said: “This is a step in the right direction which in time could help open up more markets for international travel and further choice and clarity for passengers.

“That said, a comprehensive testing regime is urgently required to enable connectivity to and from countries like the US, one of our most vital trading and strategic partners.”

A spokesman for British Airways’ owner IAG criticised the Government for being “too slow” in decision-making, urging ministers to “get on with it” on testing.

“For most families summer is now over and the damage to the industry and the economy is done,” the spokesman said.

“On testing, we need to get on with it. We are way behind other countries on what has to be a more nuanced approach.”

Weekly rate of new Covid-19 cases in England
Weekly rate of new Covid-19 cases in England

Monday’s announcement brings England partly into line with Wales, which removed six Greek islands from its quarantine-free list last week.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said the Greek islands of Lesvos, Tinos, Serifos, Mykonos, Crete, Santorini and Zakynthos (also known as Zante) would lose their quarantine-exemptions.

Data from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and Public Health England “has indicated a significant risk to UK public health from those islands”, it added.

The UK Government’s regional policy will only apply to land that has a “clear boundary” – such as an island – and “internationally comparable data” on coronavirus cases, according to the DfT.

In a statement to the Commons, Mr Shapps said: “Our top priority has always been to keep domestic infection rates down, and today we’re taking the next step in our approach.

Our response to the Transport Secretary's announcement of an "Islands policy" for travel exemptions 👇

A step in the right direction which can help to open more international markets, but it is action on testing & APD suspension that remain critical

— Airlines UK (@airlines_UK) September 7, 2020

“Through the use of enhanced data we will now be able to pinpoint risk in some of the most popular islands, providing increased flexibility to add or remove them – distinct from the mainland – as infection rates change.

“This development will help boost the UK’s travel industry while continuing to maintain maximum protection to public health, keeping the travelling public safe.”

Mr Shapps said his department was “working actively on the practicalities of using testing to release people from quarantine earlier than 14 days”.

Following the announcement, one Briton currently on holiday in Crete said she felt more comfortable on the island than in her hometown of Leeds.

“We’ve felt 100% safer here than back in Leeds as all employees are wearing masks and areas are a lot less crowded,” Beth Maybury, 24, told the PA news agency.

Due to return before the quarantine deadline, she added: “I’ve worked all throughout lockdown as I’m a key worker and I’ve been so nervous to do anything outside of work. I’ve had to fly four hours to feel comfortable doing anything.”