The boss of Heathrow airport has delivered a stark warning on the future of British aviation by telling MPs the push to make the UK a global economy after Brexit looks set to be ‘nothing more than a campaign slogan’.
Chief executive John Holland-Kaye hit out at the quarantine measures, saying the airport’s financial results ‘should serve as a clarion call’ to ministers to introduce a Covid-19 testing scheme for arriving passengers.
Heathrow has urged the government to stop imposing ‘quarantine roulette’ on travellers as it announced a pre-tax loss of £1.1 billion in the first six months of the year.
Holland-Kaye wants the 14-day self-isolation rule eased for people arriving from high-risk countries if they test negative for the virus.
It comes after Boris Johnson warned that further European nations could be thrown off the travel corridor list amid signs the continent is facing a ‘second wave’ of Covid-19.
Heathrow, the UK’s busiest airport, now finds itself in a dire situation.
Passenger numbers have dropped 96% year on year between April and June and the airport made a pre-tax loss of £1.1 billion in the first six months of 2020, down from a £7 million profit in the same period a year ago.
Warning ministers of further economic turmoil, Holland-Kaye said: ‘Today’s results should serve as a clarion call for the government – the UK needs a passenger testing regime and fast. Without it, Britain is just playing a game of quarantine roulette.’
He added: ‘Testing offers a way to safely open up travel and trade to some of the UK’s biggest markets which currently remain closed.
‘Our European competitors are racing ahead with passenger testing. If the UK doesn’t act soon global Britain will be nothing more than a campaign slogan.’
One idea floated is for passengers to be tested on arrival before being tested again a number of days later to confirm they are not infected with the virus. A second test could allow their quarantine to be shortened under the proposal.
However that suggestion was shot down by culture secretary Oliver Dowden who said there was ‘no viable alternative’ to the UK’s quarantine policy.
‘There’s not a silver bullet of just testing immediately at the border,’ he said.
‘There is a real risk here – the virus is spreading around the world, it’s rising rapidly around the world.
‘We need to ensure that the measures we’ve taken in the UK – which have been very difficult – to keep this virus under control, do not go to waste because we allow cases to come in from elsewhere.’
Government advisors warned it can take a number of days from infection before tests return a positive result, meaning testing negative on arrival does not mean the passenger will not develop symptoms later on.
But Public Health England and the Department of Health and Social Care are believed to have spoken with travel assistance company Collinson to understand the proposed testing pilot it is developing with Heathrow.
Preliminary modelling from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggested 94% of cases would be detected if the quarantine period was cut to eight days and passengers tested negative on the seventh.
Some 88% of cases would be identified if travellers self-isolate for six days and test negative on the fifth day, according to the study.