U.K. Mulls Traveler Tests in Bid to Restart Air Travel

The U.K. will study Covid-19 testing for arriving air passengers in a move aimed at providing relief to an airline industry desperate to return to some semblance of normal traffic levels.

The government, which has previously resisted tests already being used in some other countries, has formed a task force to evaluate the idea along with other measures to support the travel sector, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Wednesday in astatement in Parliament. Britain will also cooperate with other countries to develop a global approach.

Airlines have been clamoring for months for the U.K. to adopt a testing regime that would open up more destinations and give passengers increased certainty about flying. It currently mandates two weeks of quarantine for travelers from an ever-changing roster of high-risk locations. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also maintain their own lists, adding to the complexity and leading many consumers to avoid planes altogether.

London’s Heathrow airport, together withManchester Airports Group,EasyJet Plc andVirgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., welcomed the development but said the task force must act fast. Testing should be implemented by early November, they said, with people checked for the virus on day five after arriving, slashing the self-isolation period.

There should also be an examination of pre-departure testing, which would help remove the need for quarantines altogether, the companies said — including rapid-test technology that can require a wait of an hour or less.

In the statement, Shapps defended the current system, while acknowledging the potential for collaboration with the aviation industry to minimize quarantines and help repair a damaged sector of the economy.

“The current measures at the border have saved lives,” Shapps said. “Our understanding of the science now means we can intensify efforts to develop options for a testing regime and help reinvigorate our world-leading travel sector.”

Virus Impact

The U.K. is normally thebusiest country for air travel in Europe based on passengers, according to data from theInternational Air Transport Association. But the market has been hit hard by the drop in air travel tied to the coronavirus.

The situation has become increasingly dire, with airlines scrambling to pull back from more optimistic flight schedules. Carriers and airports have also resorted to deeper job reductions and fleet cutbacks as they hunker down for a long winter.

EasyJet, the U.K.’s biggest low-cost carrier, said Wednesday it would temporarily stop basing planes in Venice and Naples to adapt to flagging demand.

Separately, Manchester Airports, which also ownsRyanair Holdings Plc’s London Stansted base, announced it was cutting 900 jobs after a resurgence of the virus meant a hoped-for recovery in traffic failed to materialize.

Read more:

Manchester Airports to Cut Almost 900 Jobs Amid Travel Slump

EasyJet to Pull Planes From Venice, Naples on Demand Slump

Covid App Backed by World Economic Forum Aims to Restart Flights

The U.K. is studying testing at a time when the idea, which has been pushed hard by the global airline industry, is gaining momentum in other countries.

The World Economic Forum on Wednesday announced that it was beginning trials of the CommonPass mobile application that will allow passengers to take a coronavirus test at a certified lab and upload results onto their phones, with the app generating a barcode to show they’ve tested negative.

— With assistance by Christopher Jasper, and Tim Ross

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