Saturday, 15 May 2021

Simple ‘game changer’ £50 coronavirus test could halve tourists’ quarantine time

A simple £50 coronavirus test that could be implemented at airports would be a "game changer" and allow more Brits to go on holiday abroad, travel industry experts have said.

Tourists have been left rushing home or facing an unplanned period of self-isolation in recent weeks after traditionally popular hotspots such as France and Spain were removed from the UK's air bridge list at short notice.

Downing Street has also refused to deny that tourists returning from Croatia and Greece could soon face quarantine measures after an increase in coronavirus cases in the countries as the Government "continue to keep these rules under review".

But now, travel expert Paul Charles, of the PC Agency, has suggested the Government should adopt an Icelandic airport testing scheme, subsidising the cost so passengers pay just £50.

Passengers heading to Iceland have the option of booking a swab test on arrival instead of going into quarantine for 14 days.

They must self-isolate for five days before taking a second test, which is free, at a medical centre.

If both come back negative, they can carry on as normal. Total quarantine could be less than seven days.

“We have to bring this system to the UK as soon as possible,” Mr Charles told the Daily Mail.

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“We cannot go on with this 14-day quarantine system, which is unworkable and causing anxiety among consumers who are losing money.

“Adopting this Iceland system here would be a game-changer.

“It is far better than the damage and scarring being done to the economy by quarantine measures.”

Airlines UK policy and public affairs director Rob Griggs told the Mirror: “The UK urgently needs a testing regime as an alternative to quarantine, as part of the new normal for aviation as we live with the virus.

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“Countries like Germany have already introduced a free, one test system for arrivals where, once you’ve had a negative result, you can leave isolation.

“This is critical not just for opening up hugely important markets like the United States, but also for travel closer to home.

“We’re at real risk of falling behind on testing and Government needs to get a move on.”

Heathrow Airport could offer a £150, 90-second Covid-19 test to passengers arriving from virus hotspots.

Passengers would be checked inside Terminal 2 and the results would take up to seven hours to process.

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They would then take a follow-up test at home five to eight days later.

The scheme would be ready to launch within two weeks of the Government saying those tested and whose results are negative could be released from quarantine early.

Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “Testing will not only avoid the “quarantine roulette” that so many passengers faced in Spain and France, it will also open up flights to key trading partners such as the US, Canada and Singapore.

“The Government’s own research shows that a double test has a high level of accuracy in screening for Covid.

“This facility is an oven-ready opportunity to see how Britain can safely reopen for business, as other countries are doing.”

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How it works in Iceland

Iceland's airport testing strategy is seen as a model for how travellers can avoid two weeks' quarantine when they arrive on foreign soil.

Explaining how the Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab test will allow disease-free arrivals to leave self-isolation before the usual fortnight, the North Atlantic country's government's website says that “all passengers arriving in Iceland (except children born 2005 and later) from high-risk areas who intend to stay in Iceland for 10 days or more have to undergo two PCR-tests”.

It adds: “The first is at the border on arrival and the second by the primary health care service four to six days later.

“In between the two tests special precautions need to be taken.

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“The second test is free of charge and testing is available at health care services all over the country.”

Passengers who book the test in advance pay 9,000 Icelandic krona – about £50 – rising to 11,000 krona – about £61.50 – if paid on arrival.

From Wednesday “all arriving passengers can choose between a 14-day quarantine or a double testing procedure along with a quarantine for five to six days”.

It goes on: “The double border-screening procedure requires all passengers arriving in Iceland to undergo two PCR-tests: one upon arrival and another five to six days later to minimise the risk of a false negative causing infection to spread in the community.

“During this period, all arriving passengers must stay in quarantine in case of a possible infection.

“Those who test negative in the second PCR-test are no longer required to take special precautions.

“Those who test positive must self-isolate. Alternatively, arriving passengers can choose to stay in 14-day quarantine without undergoing any tests.

“Children born in 2005 and later are exempt from the double border-screening procedure.”

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