Britons could have to take 20-minute coronavirus tests before arriving at the airport under proposals being considered by ministers as part of a bid to enable holidays abroad this summer.
An expert committee of scientists, ministers, civil servants and aviation chiefs is considering tests that would enable travellers to sidestep quarantine and could be used to replace travel restrictions.
They are also working on “travel corridors” to link the UK to low-risk destinations by air, land and sea as the most immediate way to lift the 14-day quarantines for holidays before the end of the summer.
The quarantine for all international arrivals to the UK - including returning Britons - is due to be introduced on June 8 requiring them to self-isolate for 14 days.
It will be reviewed by June 29 which is seen by ministers as a potential first date to open up “air corridors” and trial coronavirus tests although the aviation industry is pressing for a quicker start.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said he was “a little more optimistic” about reviving foreign travel this summer.
Asked if people could now hope for a July holiday abroad, he said: “I absolutely wouldn’t rule it out. We’ve got to proceed cautiously… I definitely wouldn’t say no and I know how important it is for so many people.”
Greece and Iceland already offer coronavirus tests to arriving travellers with results returned within 24 hours, enabling them to avoid quarantine.
Vienna airport offers a similar service for £166 (190 Euros) with test results back in half an hour.
A Department for Transport source said: “What is being mooted is a mutually recognised test where a foreign businessman, say, has a test a day before flying that is accredited. It could enable people to travel but maintain public health.”
The other option being considered is to screen at the airport before flights although there are concerns about the practicality and potential delays if passenger numbers increase.
Emirates, Dubai’s state-owned carrier, trialled a swab test for passengers on one of its flights to Tunisia last month. Their results were returned within ten minutes enabling the coronavirus checks to be completed during check-in.
The moves come amid growing criticism of quarantine as nearly 80 leading names in the tourist industry and a cross-party group of 40 MPs including seven former ministers urged Government on Wednesday to ditch the “unworkable” plans.
The same day Boris Johnson told MPs he wanted to have "as sensible a quarantine scheme as possible and to keep flows as generous as we can".
The Prime Minister indicated "air bridges" could be implemented by the end of June, providing the UK reached agreements with countries deemed to be low-risk.
“There is certainly a willingness in Government to try to do as much for this summer as is safe,” said a Department for Transport (DfT) source.
Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Germany are expected to have lifted border and quarantine restrictions for tourists by mid-June so that most holiday travel could open up in July.
A new internationally-agreed set of standards for “safe” post-coronavirus travel is being drawn up by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) which would cover the conditions for “travel corridors” or “air bridges” between countries.
This would include the transmission rates expected of participating countries, the defences each country would have to have in place to combat coronavirus infections and the health measures expected during travel to minimise the risk of catching the disease.
Karen Dee, chief Executive of the Airport Operators’ Association, said the guidelines offered the chance for the Government to introduce air and travel corridors at the same time as it imposed quarantine on June 8.
“Our neighbours and key trading partners are taking steps to lift their blanket travel restrictions such as quarantine requirements towards a science-led, risk-based approach. The UK now needs to do the same as soon as possible, or risk being left behind,” she told The Daily Telegraph.
“With European guidelines ensuring there is a common standard for health measures to protect air passengers and staff, the right conditions are in place to open up air corridors to many of our European neighbours as soon as quarantine restrictions come in place on June 8.
“This would benefit not just aviation but also the thousands of businesses and millions of jobs that depend on air connectivity, such as in tourism, manufacturing and the UK food industry.”
Henry Smith, chair of the 40-strong group of MPs, said quarantine was “well-intentioned” but “unworkable” and was being implemented at the wrong time when the rest of Europe was opening up.
He said air and travel corridors offered the best “short-term” solution with testing a potential component. “One of the biggest answers to this is getting an international consensus,” he said. “We need to revive aviation before the bulk of the summer travel season, ideally by July 1 but as soon as possible.”