The Government is preparing to shake up air travel quarantine rules as soon as this week, a Treasury minister has indicated, as he revealed officials had been studying Germany's "best in class" testing system.
Stephen Barclay, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said a decision would be made on airport swabbing “in the coming days”, but pointed to the testing regime in Germany, where passengers arriving from high-risk countries can be rapidly tested and allowed to leave quarantine earlier.
The UK has fallen behind France and Germany, both of which introduced airport testing in August.
Arrivals at some German airports can take a swap costing €130 and receive a test result within 6 hours. Alternatively, people can be released from quarantine after ten days with a free test from the Government.
In the UK, all people returning from high risk countries must self-isolate for 14 days.
Speaking at a ConservativeHome panel at Tory Party Conference on Saturday, Mr Barclay said testing in airports was a “key priority in the sector at the moment”.
“I am expecting Grant Shapps and Matt Hancock to say more about this in the coming days,” he said.
“But from a Treasury point of view, the sort of things you would expect us to be looking at is: what testing can we have at airports, and how does that interact with the quarantine rules?
“What is best in class internationally? So, if we look, for example, at some of the German states, which are using testing to then release earlier from some of the restrictions.”
The Telegraph understands ministers are considering forming a task force to explore various options for international travel.
Mr Barclay yesterday suggested the Government was examining options for “subnational travel” that would designate safe zones in high risk countries, and exempt people from quarantine. For example, a theoretical scenario could see someone could fly to the south of France, but not to Paris.
Another option backed by SAGE, the Government’s scientific advisory panel, could involve “dual testing,” where incoming travellers must test negative twice within five days to be allowed to leave quarantine.
A Department for Transport spokesman refused to be drawn on when any announcement would be made and whether any decision had been taken.
Mr Shapps, the Transport Secretary, is scheduled to address Conservative Party members at the conference on Monday, and could use the platform to launch a testing drive or announce a taskforce on the issue.
Mr Barclay’s comments were welcomed by Heathrow Airport, which has already invested in testing infrastructure in anticipation of a change in Government policy.
John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s chief executive, has said talks with Downing Street have been "progressive" and testing could be operational within two weeks.
Under Heathrow’s system, one test costing £150 would be performed on arrival, with another five or seven days later.