Heathrow Airport’s chief executive has urged the government to consider testing all arrivals for coronavirus in a bid to reduce the two-week quarantine time for those travelling from countries deemed high-risk.
Ministers are reported to be mulling proposals to reduce the mandatory length of self-isolation in a bid to shore up the travel sector and rescue the summer tourism season.
While testing at airports is unlikely to rule out the need for quarantines, new scientific modelling has suggested that a series of staggered tests could reduce the necessary isolation period by several days.
Introducing tests one week after arrival, with a turnaround time of 24 hours, could reduce the amount of coronavirus entering the country by 94 per cent, according to research by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), which has not yet been peer-reviewed.
This would reduce the necessary quarantine period to eight days – cutting it by almost half.
While the current two-week quarantine results in a 99 per cent reduction in infections entering the UK, according to LHSTM modelling, they found that testing travellers on day five of their quarantine with a view to releasing them on day six would see that figure fall to 88 per cent.
In the wake of the sudden decision to impose quarantine arrivals from Spain, Heathrow Airport boss John Holland-Kaye proposed on Tuesday that travellers could be tested upon arrival at a cost of £150, with a second test either five or eight days later.
His airport could have a test “up and running” in two weeks, he told The Telegraph, meaning those who have just embarked upon Spanish holidays could feasibly benefit from such a system.
Transport minister Grant Shapps is believed to be in favour of such a system, and the paper reported that he has floated the idea during recent Cabinet meetings.
A number of countries have already implemented such systems to reduce quarantine times, including France and Germany.
“Let’s be absolutely clear about what’s happening in Europe, amongst some of our European friends, I’m afraid you are starting to see in some places the signs of a second wave of the pandemic,” the prime minister said on Tuesday.
“It’s vital that when people are coming back from abroad, if they are coming back from a place where I’m afraid there is another outbreak, they must go into quarantine.
“That’s why we have taken the action that we have and we will continue, throughout the summer, to take such action where it is necessary.”
Amid speculation that Belgium, France or Germany may be the next countries to be removed from the list of exemptions from quarantine, he added: “These are decisions for families, for individuals, about where they want to go.”
But Mr Johnson also appeared to confirm reports that ministers are seeking ways to reduce the quarantine time, the government is “always looking at ways in which we can mitigate the impact of the quarantine”.