The Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “We know for certain if you are going to test people on day zero it won’t help.”
Speaking at the virtual online convention for Abta, the travel association, Mr Shapps said: “The chief medical officer has been clear it would not capture sufficient information on those who are asymptomatic.”
However, he said a test “after about a week”, at the passenger’s expense, might allow travellers to leave quarantine earlier.
The head of NHS Track and Trace, Dido Harding, also cautioned that airport testing was unlikely to eliminate self-isolation requirements.
“A negative test at a point in time only proves that you’re not infectious at this point in time,” she said.
“And if you’ve been travelling from a high-risk environment, I would suspect that the clinicians advise that some form of quarantine is still going to be necessary.”
But other countries are already taking a different tack; here are the destinations using testing on arrival to help open up international travel.
Although you can get a private test, taken no more than 72 hours before your arrival into Italy, there is also the option to get tested for free upon entering the country. Some airports offer rapid testing, taking no more than an hour, and passengers must wait to receive their results. Where rapid testing isn’t available, travellers must self-isolate in their hotel or accommodation until they receive their test result.
Some airports or stations don’t have testing facilities, in which case arrivals must quarantine and get tested within 48 hours of entering the country.
According to the FCDO, “you should call the Covid-19 helpline for the region you are in to arrange this. You can be fined if you do not comply with this requirement. Even if you don’t need to book a test, you still need to call the Covid-19 helpline for the region you are travelling within 48 hours of your arrival to inform them of your visit.”
Italy is also trialling rapid Covid testing for all departures. The scheme makes use of 30-minute swab tests to ensure all travellers have tested negative for coronavirus before boarding their flight.
Initially being piloted at Rome’s Fiumicino airport on two daily Alitalia services to Milan, the initiative is the first in Europe to introduce rapid testing for departing passengers.
If successful, the pilot will be rolled out across other flights in an attempt to help boost the struggling aviation industry. Fiumicino’s management company ADR is aiming to use 30-minute tests, administered free-of-charge to passengers, to improve customer confidence.
Travellers entering Germany from “high-risk” areas (or who have been in “high risk” areas within the previous two weeks) are now required to either show evidence of a negative Covid-19 test result or quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
Northern Ireland, Scotland, North East England, North West England, Yorkshire and the Humber and Wales have all been designated as high risk.
However, travellers have options when it comes to testing. According to the FCDO, those coming from a high risk area can: present a valid test taken within 48 hours prior to arrival; take a test directly on arrival (there are testing facilities at airports and major transport hubs); or take a test after your return to your place of residence in Germany, where you are required to report to the local health office. The test is free of charge if taken within 72 hours of arrival.
But be warned: although a negative test may exempt you from the 14-day self-isolation requirement, some German states require a second negative test before granting an exemption from quarantine.
German flag carrier Lufthansa is also looking at trialling rapid testing for passengers. The airline is considering using antigen tests, which can be administered and processed on site and typically take just 15 minutes to yield a result.
The biggest Channel Island launched the Safer Travel Testing Programme, which offers Covid-19 testing to all passengers arriving in Jersey free of charge. Depending on their travel history, passengers who take part in the programme may be granted permission to isolate for a shortened period, instead of undergoing a blanket 14-day quarantine.
As part of the pre-registration process, passengers are required to disclose their travel history for the 14 days prior to their planned arrival in Jersey. This includes their country of departure, and any other countries or regions where they have stayed overnight or will have stayed overnight in the 14 days before arrival.
Based on this, travellers are assigned a classification of green, amber or red. This traffic light system determines what requirements arrivals must adhere to based on the coronavirus risk of the region they’re travelling from.
Passengers from green areas must take a test on arrival and another after five days, and are only required to quarantine until the result of the first test is returned (providing it’s negative). Amber arrivals take a test on arrival and on day five, and must self-isolate until the second test result has been returned as negative. Red arrivals must take a test on arrival and quarantine for 14 days, regardless of the result.
Azores and Madeira
These autonomous Portuguese territories have managed to cling on and are still on both the Department for Transport’s list of travel corridors – travellers returning to the UK from destinations on the list don’t need to quarantine for two weeks – and the FCDO’s list of countries exempt from its blanket advisory against all international travel.
Both archipelagos require travellers entering to test negative for Covid-19. But they can either get this done in the UK within 72 hours of departure, or opt to get tested at their arrival airport free-of-charge instead, on the proviso that they then quarantine at their holiday accommodation until a negative result is received.
Ras Al Khaimah
The United Arab Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah has said it will offer free Covid-19 tests to all international visitors help boost tourism. Travellers can get a free PCR swab test at RAK Hospital or RAK Medical Centre in Al Hamra Mall until the end of 2020.
Authorities announced that, from 15 October, UAE residents and tourists are allowed to fly to Ras Al Khaimah without prior approval.
However, all arrivals must present a negative Covid-19 certificate taken no more than 96 hours before departure in order to enter Ras Al Khaimah, before being tested again for free once in the UAE.
“It is with great pleasure that we announce the complimentary test for international visitors, as this will put in place an added element of safety – both for the guests staying within our properties, as well as our hospitality providers and their staff,” said Raki Phillips, chief executive of Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority.
Aruba reopened its borders to travellers from Europe on 1 July 2020; UK travellers can reach the year-round temperate climate and white-sand beaches of the independent nation in the southern Caribbean by connecting flight via Miami.
Again, although a negative Covid-19 test result must be provided, travellers can do this beforehand – with the test carried out no more than 72 hours before arrival in Aruba – or upon entering the island. The only catch is that visitors who opt for testing on arrival must undergo a mandatory 24-hour quarantine until they receive a negative result.
Canary and Balearic Islands
Spain has just announced new safety measures to enable “travel corridors” between the Canary and Balearic Islands and the rest of Europe in order to kickstart tourism.
The government is introducing new protocols, focused around coronavirus testing, to enable safer travel to the islands during the pandemic.
Tourists entering the islands from a European country where the Covid-19 case rate is 50 per 100,000 inhabitants or less need not get tested in advance. However, anyone arriving from a destination where the rate is higher than 50 per 100,000 will have to present a negative Covid-19 test result taken no more than 48 hours before their flight.
All tourists will also be tested for the virus for free 48 hours prior to their departure. Anyone who tests positive will have to quarantine on the islands, but accommodation and other associated costs will be provided by the authorities free of charge, along with any necessary healthcare or hospitalisation as a result of the infection.