Government plans to introduce a test and release system for travellers arriving in England have been broadly welcomed by the trade – but there are calls to go further.
Under the new system, to be introduced on December 15th, passengers who test negative for Covid-19 after five days of self-isolation will not be obliged to complete the remainder of the standard two-week quarantine.
ABTA chief executive, Mark Tanzer, said: “The test to release scheme in England should help to make overseas travel more attractive and manageable for both holidaymakers and business travellers.
“We know that Foreign Office advice and quarantine requirements are major impediments to travel, and there is an urgent need to remove these barriers as fast as is compatible with the domestic health strategy.
“The outbound travel industry has been hit early and hard by the pandemic and we hope that test to release will help get people travelling once again.”
He added: “There is still more work to be done to get more people travelling and to support the recovery of the sector, including having a testing scheme in place for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the government moving to a regional approach to quarantine and travel advice.
“It is important that the test to release scheme is kept under review, to make sure that advancements in testing are used to further reduce quarantine to as short a period as possible.”
Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound concurred, but argued the new system represented a first step.
He said: “Implementing testing after five days and reducing quarantine is a step in the right direction but the prospect of visitors having to self-isolate for any length of time will continue to significantly impede demand and therefore risk jobs in the valuable inbound tourism industry.
“Tourism is a competitive business, and when we can travel again, we need a best-in-class testing regime, negating the need for a lengthy self-isolation, otherwise competitors who do have these systems will reap the benefit.
“Tourism will be able to significantly aid the economic recovery but right now businesses are struggling to survive and until a more rigorous system is in place, international visitors will not return in numbers.
“The government needs to provide a targeted resilience fund for inbound tourism businesses and access to grants from which they have previously been excluded, to ensure they can survive the winter.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the industry association representing UK-registered carriers, also welcomed the move.
He added: “This is a hugely welcome step that will begin the process of opening up international travel and restarting UK aviation.
“It is a good start and by more than halving the quarantine period we should see demand tentatively return and more routes and destinations become viable once again.
“That said, a test at day five does not get rid of quarantine and that is why we look forward to working with government to move towards a pre-departure or domestic testing regime that can remove safely the need for self-isolation altogether, as quickly as possible.”
Shai Weiss, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, argued the decision was positive in the run up to Christmas.
He explained: “The introduction of air passenger testing on day five is a vital first step to reopening the skies in the run up to Christmas.
“However a five-day quarantine is likely to prove a significant deterrent for travellers, especially those on business.
“The only way to fully reopen vital trading and travel links, support the economic recovery and protect more than 500,000 jobs supported by aviation, is to move to a robust pre-departure testing regime to safely replace quarantine as soon as possible.”
He added: “Moving to a pre-departure regime, supported by latest independent evidence, would be twice as effective as quarantine.
“Passengers should be able to take a test from up to 72 hours before departure, including a rapid test at the airport on the day of departure.”
Finally, low-cost carrier Ryanair joined calls for the government to align with Europe and eliminate any quarantine for travellers with a negative Covid-19 test 72 hrs prior to arrival.
A spokesperson said: “The ‘test and release’ system in the UK is a further step towards opening Britain for Christmas but falls short for the hundreds of thousands of British citizens flying home for the festive season.
“With Covid-19 tests now widely available, the government should remove quarantine restrictions and allow citizens to move freely, once they have a negative Covid-19 test.”