Plans to require international travelers to test negative for coronavirus before arriving in England and Scotland will be “a real challenge” for some passengers due to the different testing facilities in other countries, warned Heathrow’s executive director.
John Holland-Kaye called on the government to take the lead in creating a “common international standard for testing” to replace the current “confusing” differences between nations.
He said his airport has 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 are trapped in any of these countries and now you have these new requirements, you will find it quite difficult to get the tests required to come home.
“And that will be a real challenge for many passengers.”
Mr Holland-Kaye welcomed the new rules to bring the virus under control but said that they should be “temporary” and that the government must put in place a “road map” for future screening of international travelers.
His comments came after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps introduced new rules that, starting next week, passengers arriving in England by boat, train or aircraft – including British nationals – must take a test up to 72 hours before leaving the country of departure.
Failure to comply will result in an immediate £ 500 fine.
Scotland has announced similar measures, while Shapps said he was “fairly certain” that Wales and Northern Ireland would also adopt the requirement, with it being rolled out across the UK “sometime next week”.
Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said he “strongly supports” the existing measures as soon as Wales starts welcoming international travelers again.
Mr Shapps said the new rules had become a “much more pressing” requirement due to the spread of new strains of coronavirus.
He told Sky News, “This is an additional review and we are doing it now that there are these variants that we would very much like to keep out of the country, such as the South African variant.”
“There are concerns about the South African, especially the effectiveness of the vaccine against it, so we just can’t take any chances.”
He also defended the government against allegations that it should have closed the border earlier during the pandemic, arguing that Britain, as an island, needed the movement of goods and people.
“Look what happened in the United States, for example, where they completely closed the border in March of last year,” he said. “It didn’t help them at all, not an iota.”
Labor MP and Commons Home Affairs Committee Chair Yvette Cooper said there were still “many gaps” in the UK approach.
“There is currently no on-arrival testing in the UK and very patchy self-isolation rules for arriving travelers, unlike the rigorous arrival testing and quarantine arrangements that other countries have,” she said.
She urged ministers “not to make the same mistakes again” to prevent coronavirus cases from coming from overseas and said border measures were “too weak” last spring.
Under the new travel rules, passengers must provide their airline with proof of a negative test result upon boarding, while the British border guards conduct spot checks on arrival.
All passengers arriving from countries not on the government’s travel corridor list are required to self-isolate for another 10 days regardless of their test result.
Freight forwarders crossing the canal to France are still required to perform a negative test on Thursday before departure, following a decision by the French government.
Shapps said that people whose jobs mean they qualify for travel quarantine exemptions will need to take a coronavirus test prior to travel.
The government lists dozens of jobs that are exempt from filling out the passenger search form or self-isolating, including some defense forces, elite athletes and health workers.
But Mr Shapps told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that while they don’t need the quarantine, they “won’t be exempted from taking the Covid test”.
Mr Holland-Kaye said the different travel rules in different countries are “confusing” for passengers at the moment and told BBC Breakfast: “We have had many disappointed travelers who thought they did the right thing and were turned away when they left tries to get on her plane. “
Speaking to Sky News, he said a “global standard” for pre-departure tests could result in “people taking a test three days before departure, self-isolating in their home country, and then taking a second test at the airport to close confirm that they do not have Covid until they can get on the plane and travel freely thereafter. “
Mr Holland-Kaye said the introduction of coronavirus vaccines could cause passenger numbers to “increase” through the summer and into the fall, but called for business rates to be eased to help the airports in the meantime.
The new travel rules are being introduced due to lock restrictions in the four countries of the UK, which means very little travel abroad.
Stewart Wingate, CEO of Gatwick Airport, said the UK lockdown would have “serious implications” as air traffic levels would drop “dramatically” in the coming days.
He said pre-departure testing could “encourage frequent international travel to restart by eliminating the need for incoming passengers to be quarantined”.
Mr. Wingate added, “It remains important, however, that all testing is affordable for passengers and that these arrangements are temporary and withdrawn at the earliest possible time if public health conditions permit.”
Clive Wratten, CEO of the Business Travel Association, welcomed the new measures, adding that the overall travel rules “need to be scrutinized so that business travelers can make a full contribution to the UK economy when international borders open”.
Meanwhile, places of worship in mainland Scotland will be closing starting Friday as the latest coronavirus restrictions persist across the country.
In Wales, Prime Minister Mark Drakeford has announced that he will tighten lockdown restrictions in “key areas” in order to stop the spread of the new variant.
He warned that high school students and college students will continue to study online through mid-February unless there was a “significant” decrease in cases before January 29.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged an “unprecedented national effort” to get the vaccine introduced to nearly 14 million of the most vulnerable people by mid-February.
He promised that all residents of elderly care would be offered the sting by the end of January.