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Air passengers might be screened again eight days after arriving in UK

Air passengers could be tested eight days after arrival under plans to get Britain flying again.

Ministers are considering two options to open up the skies and help rescue the Covid-ravaged economy.

Under the first, passengers would be given an airport test on arrival followed by a second test a few days later. The second option is for a single test after five to eight days of self-isolation.

Insiders say the Department for Transport is ‘rattled’ by mounting Tory anger over the disastrous 14-day quarantine policy. Scores of MPs and business chiefs are supporting the Mail’s drive for Covid-19 tests to save thousands of jobs. In a boost for our campaign, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday said a testing regime was under review but would be ‘no silver bullet’ to end quarantine.

Aviation chiefs are furious at the slow pace of progress and want a firm commitment to border tests by the end of the week.

Leaders from the likes of Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Luton have set the Prime Minister a seven-day deadline to replace mandatory self-isolation with Covid-19 testing at airports.

In the letter seen by the Daily Telegraph – also addressed to Chancellor Rishi Sunak – 20 airport chief executives claimed testing, alongside other measures, could save 110,000 jobs industry-wide.

Having already lost over £4billion due to reduced traffic during the pandemic, they wrote: ‘We cannot currently envisage an end to this struggle, and without robust Government support there is real possibility of irreparable damage being done to our once world-beating aviation sector.’

Led by Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, conservative chair of the Airport Operators’ Association, the signatories stressed that testing, along with regional travel corridors, were critical to opening up travel.

It is also believed scores of Tory MPs will today urge the government to back testing in airports to remove a ‘barrier to travel’.

TUI managing director Andrew Flintham also criticised the lack of testing at airports last night, writing in the Daily Telegraph: ‘This Government wants to get people back to work – but what happens when there’s no work for people to come back to.’  

In a boost for the Daily Mail’s campaign, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday said a testing regime was under review but would be ‘no silver bullet’ to end quarantine.

But aviation chiefs are furious at the slow pace of progress and want a firm commitment to border tests by the end of the week.

Ministers are now leaning toward the idea of a single Covid-19 test eight days after arrival to cut travel quarantine times by almost half. 

The Mail understands that the single test would see travellers swabbed at an NHS testing centre or given home kits. A negative result would allow for early release from the 14-day quarantine rule.

Airlines welcomed the move but warned time is fast running out. Industry leaders want ministers to commit to testing this week, with a firm timeline for implementation.

They fear failure will wreck hopes of a rise in bookings over the autumn half term and lead to mass redundancies when the furlough scheme ends next month. Scores of Tory MPs and business chiefs are supporting the Daily Mail’s campaign for Covid-19 tests at ports and airports and save thousands of jobs.

There is growing frustration at the Prime Minister’s insistence that a single test on arrival would only detect 7 per cent of coronavirus cases.

Public health experts and industry leaders have accused Boris Johnson and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps of ignoring an official Sage science advisers’ report showing tests five days after arrival will detect 85 per cent of cases and 96 per cent after eight days. They also point out that the 7 per cent figure is based on a three-month-old Public Health England model that does not account for real-world data from 30 countries that have introduced airport testing regimes.

Ministers have stoked further confusion by failing to clarify whether the 7 per cent figure refers only to asymptomatic carriers or to all coronavirus cases.

One Tory MP said: ‘There is a growing realisation that Downing Street might have got the wrong end of the stick on all this.

‘It is possible the risk of airport testing is being dramatically over-estimated.’

Sir David Spiegelhalter, a Cambridge University professor and one of the UK’s top statisticians, yesterday described the Government’s defence of 14-day quarantine as ‘hopelessly wrong’.

He said even if only 7 per cent of cases were picked up ‘the vast majority of people will have correct negative tests’.

He described a single test on arrival as a ‘straw man’ and called for ‘proper cost-effectiveness analysis of reasonable repeat strategies’.

Senior Tories, including a number of former transport ministers, are now calling on Downing Street to carry out a review of data from countries with airport testing. One former minister told the Mail: ‘They keep referring to this out-dated and questionable 7 per cent figure. I’m hoping it is a fig leaf while they work out how to do a reverse ferret.’

Sir Graham Brady, leader of the 1922 committee of backbenchers, said: ‘The variety of tests available means that there are a number ways of having far greater confidence that passengers are not carrying infection.

‘This can also be done by means of a double-test with tests taken a few days apart from each other.

‘Britain’s aviation industry is on its knees and this country has lagged behind all its main competitors in terms of getting an airport regime in place.

‘This should be done urgently while we still have a world-leading aviation industry.’

Tory MP Henry Smith, whose constituency includes Gatwick, said: ‘Boris and Shapps need to start looking at other countries which have introduced airport testing. These are big economies which we compete with. If it’s working for them, why not us?

‘No system is fool-proof. That goes for testing as well as quarantine. But I would argue that airport tests are a far more fool proof then a blanket 14-day quarantine that relies almost entirely on trusting the public to comply.’

Former Tory health secretary Lord Lansley told Times Radio the quarantine policy should be ditched in time for half term.

As many as 40 Tory MPs are preparing to rebel against 14-day quarantine ahead of a Commons debate on aviation on Thursday.Asked if the quarantine time could be cut to eight days, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC’s Andrew Maar Show: ‘The direction of travel will be making sure we have the capacity and the ability for when the time is right to ease up on the self-isolation at home, and that’s certainly something that we’ll be looking at.’ But he cautioned: ‘Let’s just be clear about this when we think about airports – there is no silver bullet in airports.’

Airlines UK, the trade body representing British carriers, is pushing for shorter five-day quarantine. Chief executive Tim Alderslade said: ‘The Government’s modelling says that if you undertake a test on day five the percentage of asymptomatic carriers caught rises to 85 per cent.

‘So if the Government is not happy to introduce a regime based on one test on arrival, it could introduce a regime based on a day five test, but at the same time run a trial testing both on arrival and at day 5.

‘This would provide real-world data which we hope would enable the Government to move to a one test on arrival system.’

A Whitehall source told the Mail: ‘There is a live discussion in Government over the possibility of a two-step testing regime to replace quarantine. But it will depend on a number of other factors such as testing capacity.’

Britain lags behind most of Europe when it comes to re-opening the skies, damning figures reveal.

Passenger numbers were down by 73 per cent year-on-year in August, according to data from Airports Council International seen by the Daily Mail.

This compares unfavourably to data from countries where airport testing regimes have been put in place.

In France, passenger numbers were down by only 60 per cent and in Italy by 62 per cent. Most countries in eastern Europe were down by 68 per cent and in southern Europe, including Spain and Portugal, by 65 per cent.

Airport bosses said the figures prove the UK is trailing behind dozens of other countries which offer or accept Covid tests at airports.

In another blow to Britain’s status as an aviation heavyweight, figures show Frankfurt airport and Charles de Gaulle in Paris carried more passengers over the past few months than Heathrow – for the first time in history.

Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, told the Mail: ‘There is no surprise that, with quarantine measures constantly changing, and no sign of a testing regime, UK aviation has suffered through its worst summer in a generation.

‘The Government needs to work quickly with the industry to ensure further, irreparable damage to our once world-leading aviation sector does not occur.

‘A robust testing regime for international travellers is one solution which could help secure the restart of UK aviation and UK PLC.’

Aviation bosses backing the Mail’s Get Britain Flying campaign have warned we will lose our status as a global trading superpower unless ministers take urgent action. Writing in the Mail last week, Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye warned: ‘If the Government doesn’t get a grip and reopen our borders safely, Britain will fall behind.

‘If EU airports thrive, while the UK’s hub declines, then Brexit Britain will rely on European hubs to get their global goods to market… Britain will become a vassal state of the EU, just after we have left.’

The price of plane tickets for holidaymakers could be cut by the Chancellor under plans to get Britain flying again.

At least 24 Tories, including Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 committee, are pressuring Rishi Sunak to suspend air passenger duty until the end of summer next year.

The tax on flights from UK airports is charged to airlines but much of the cost is passed onto holidaymakers. It can add £13 to every short-haul ticket and £78 to long-haul fares.

Last night the Treasury hinted that changes could be made in the autumn Budget after the transport committee called for a six-month suspension.

An official statement said: ‘The Chancellor has announced that there will be a consultation on aviation tax reform.

‘As part of this, the Government will consider the case for changing the air passenger duty (APD) treatment of domestic flights, such as reintroducing a return leg exemption, and for increasing the number of international distance bands.’

Research by York Aviation, a research consultancy used by Ministers, found waiving the duty would generate £8billion for the economy. This is three times the amount it had been expected to bring into the Treasury’s coffers in 2019-20.

Tory MP Henry Smith, whose constituency includes Gatwick airport, is urging Mr Sunak to grant an APD holiday to struggling airlines.

In a letter to the Chancellor, he said: ‘If we maintain our levels of air passenger duty, it will become a ‘tax on recovery’ as flying is the only viable route for investors and business people to approach and service existing and potential new markets.’

A suspension could allow airlines to entice holidaymakers with cheaper fares and save many of the 600 air routes lost as a result of the pandemic.

Andrew Flintham, managing director of Tui UK and Ireland, has warned that many companies would not survive unless flight levies were reduced immediately.

He said the industry was ‘on its knees’, adding: ‘We really need the Government to step in and help us.’ Airports are also calling on the Chancellor to waive business rates to help them cope with the collapse in travel. Regional airports have been hit particularly hard.

The Airport Operators Association recently warned 20,000 jobs will have to be cut without urgent relief.

Airports in England have paid more than £70million in business rates since March despite a 97 per cent slump in passenger numbers.

Sir Graham said yesterday: ‘The UK levies the highest rate of tax in the world on air passengers.

‘After months in which the Government has effectively shut down much of our aviation industry, particularly through its blunt instrument of quarantine, it is unrealistic to think the goose will continue laying golden eggs. A period of relief for APD would help the sector get back in the air.’

Mr Smith said: ‘In light of the way the aviation industry is struggling, we are calling for a scrapping of APD until the end of summer next year. This would be a way of encouraging people to travel.

‘We need to help the industry on a range of fronts and an important part of that is getting rid of flight levies.

‘Other measures include testing for passenger and an extension of the furlough scheme for the aviation industry.’

A Department for Transport spokesman said: ‘We acted quickly to provide the aviation industry with an unprecedented package of support to help it through this exceptionally difficult period.’ This included loans, tax deferrals and the furlough scheme, he added.

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