The UK government has launched a taskforce to implement a Covid-19 testing system for international arrivals and safely reduce the 14-day quarantine period.

The Global Travel Taskforce will be jointly chaired by the Secretaries of State for Transport and Health and Social Care and will work with partners from the aviation, travel, healthcare and testing sectors to “support the travel industry and reinvigorate international travel”.

The taskforce’s main objective will be to consider the feasibility of a single test taken after a period of self-isolation. This test would be provided by the private sector and paid for by the passenger to ensure that testing does not impact on NHS capacity.

The taskforce will also focus on facilitating business and tourist travel by looking at “innovative testing models and other non-testing means”. This includes pilots with partner countries to determine whether self-isolation could be undertaken before departure.

Commenting on the launch, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps stated:

“The current measures at the border have saved lives. Our understanding of the science now means we can intensify efforts to develop options for a testing regime and help reinvigorate our world-leading travel sector.

“This new taskforce will not only help us move towards safer, smoother international travel as we continue to battle this virus but will also support global connectivity – helping facilitate more Covid secure travel whilst protecting the population from imported cases.”

While airlines, airports and aviation bodies have welcomed the creation of the taskforce, many argue that the initiatives are long overdue and that tests should be developed as quickly as possible to kickstart the UK’s economic recovery – the initial findings will only be published next month, meaning that the current 14-day self-isolation policy remains in place.

Dale Keller, CEO of The Board of Airline Representative in the UK, urged the government to “bring forward a passenger testing regime with utmost urgency as a national priority”, while Karen Dee, CEO of Airport Operators Association, added that the ultimate objective should be “ending quarantine altogether through a globally aligned testing system”.

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson agreed, and further suggested that:

“Trials between Heathrow and New York should take place in parallel to generate real world data for a pre-departure and on arrival testing approach, as well as regional mainland travel corridors, so that policy can quickly evolve.”

Last month, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) called for the deployment of Covid-19 testing for all passengers before departure as an alternative to quarantine rules.

Department for Transport