Plans to require international travellers to test negative for coronavirus before arriving to England and Scotland will be “a real challenge” for some passengers due to varying testing facilities in other countries, Heathrow’s chief executive has warned.
John Holland-Kaye called on the Government to take the lead in creating a “common international standard for testing” to replace current “confusing” differences between nations.
He said his airport had the capacity to test up to 25,000 people a day, but other airports around the world lacked such facilities.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Friday he said: “So, if you’re caught out in one of those countries, and you now have these new requirements, then you’ll find it quite difficult to get the tests that are needed in order to come back home again.
“And that’s going to be a real challenge for a lot of passengers.”
Mr Holland-Kaye welcomed the new rules to help get the virus under control, but said they should be “temporary” and that Government must set out a “roadmap” for testing international travellers in the future.
His comments came after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps set out new rules which, from next week, will require passengers arriving in England by boat, train or plane – including UK nationals – to take a test up to 72 hours before leaving the country of departure.
Failure to comply will lead to an immediate £500 fine.
Scotland has announced similar measures, while Mr Shapps said he was “pretty certain” that Wales and Northern Ireland would also introduce the requirement, with it becoming UK-wide at “some point next week”.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said he “strongly supports” the measures being in place once Wales begins welcoming international travellers again.
Mr Shapps said the new rules became a “much more urgent” requirement due to the spread of new coronavirus strains.
He told Sky News: “This is an extra check and we’re doing this now because there are these variants that we’re very keen to keep out of the country, like the South African variant, for example.
“There are the concerns about the South African one in particular about how effective the vaccine would be against it so we simply cannot take chances.”
He also defended the Government against allegations it should have moved sooner to close the border during the pandemic, arguing the UK as an island needed the movement of goods and people.
“Look what happened in the United States, for example, where they did last March entirely closed the border,” he said. “It hasn’t helped them at all, not one iota.”
Labour MP and Commons Home Affairs Committee chairwoman Yvette Cooper said there are still “many gaps” in the UK’s approach.
“Currently the UK still has no testing on arrival and very patchy self-isolation arrangements for arriving travellers, in contrast to the strong arrival testing and quarantine arrangements that other countries have,” she said.
She urged ministers not to “make the same mistakes again” on preventing coronavirus cases from arriving from overseas, saying border measures were “too weak” last spring.
Under the new travel rules passengers will need to present proof of a negative test result to their carrier on boarding while the UK Border Force will conduct spot checks on arrivals.
All passengers arriving from countries not on the Government’s travel corridor list will still be required to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their test result.
Hauliers crossing the Channel to France will also still need a negative test before departure following a decision by the French government on Thursday.
Mr Shapps said people whose jobs mean they qualify for travel quarantine exemptions will be required to take a coronavirus test before travelling.
The Government lists dozens of jobs that qualify for exemption from completing the passenger locator form or self-isolating, including some defence personnel, elite sportsmen and women, and health workers.
But Mr Shapps told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that, despite not needing the quarantine, they “won’t be exempted from taking the Covid test”.
Mr Holland-Kaye said the varying travel rules in different countries were currently “confusing” for passengers, telling BBC Breakfast: “We’ve had a lot of disappointed travellers who thought they’d done the right thing and were then turned away when they tried to board their plane.”
Speaking to Sky News, he said a “global standard” for pre-departure testing could see “people taking a test three days before they are due to fly, self-isolating in their home country, and then taking a second test at the airport to confirm that they don’t have Covid before getting on the plane, and then being able to travel freely afterwards”.
Mr Holland-Kaye said the coronavirus vaccines rollout could see passengers numbers “building up” through the summer and into the autumn, but called for business rates relief to support airports in the mean time.
The new travel rules are introduced amid lockdown restrictions across the four nations of the UK, meaning there is very little travel abroad.
Stewart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick Airport, said England’s lockdown would have a “severe impact”, with air traffic levels due to fall “dramatically” in the coming days.
He said pre-departure testing could “encourage frequent international travel to restart by eliminating the need for arriving passengers to quarantine”.
Heathrow remains open and operating safely.
From 5 Jan the Government is advising against all but essential travel (where legally permitted to do so, for example, for work).
— Heathrow Airport (@HeathrowAirport) January 5, 2021
Mr Wingate added: “It remains important however that any tests are affordable for passengers and that these arrangements are temporary and are withdrawn at the earliest opportunity when public health conditions permit.”
Clive Wratten, CEO of the Business Travel Association, welcomed the new measures, adding travel rules overall “will need to be kept under close review so that business travellers can contribute fully to the UK economy as international borders open up”.
Meanwhile, places of worship across mainland Scotland will close from Friday as the latest set of coronavirus restrictions continue across the country.
In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced lockdown restrictions will be strengthened in “key areas” to try to halt the spread of the new variant.
He warned that unless there was a “significant” drop in cases before January 29, school and college students will continue to learn online until the February half-term.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged an “unprecedented national effort” to rollout the vaccine to nearly 14 million of the most vulnerable people by mid-February.
He pledged that all elderly care residents will have been offered the jab by the end of January.