Heathrow demands testing decision
After months of inaction as the travel industry was decimated, the UK government finally announced they were forming a task force to look at how to introduce testing to reduce quarantine. Hopefully, they will also look at the limits they are using to impose quarantine since pretty much every area in the UK is well over the 20 per 100,000 figure they are using. However, no time frame was given as to when even a decision would be made, let alone any action. The task force do have to at least form a recommendation by “early November” but how long it then takes the government to a) make a decision and b) implement it is unknown.
Heathrow Airport’s CEO has been one of the strongest voices campaigning for a change to the restrictions and this week he released a statement demanding a decision by 1 November.
Heathrow CEO, John Holland-Kaye, said: “The Government’s Global Travel Taskforce is a great step forward, but needs to act quickly to save the millions of UK jobs that rely on aviation. Implementing “test and release” after 5 days of quarantine would kick start the economy. But the government could show real leadership by working with the US to develop a Common International Standard for pre-departure testing that would mean that only Covid-free passengers are allowed to travel from high risk countries.”
When you look at the grim figures you can understand why. If this continues for much longer I can’t see how any airport can remain viable long term.
- Traffic fell in September, with a loss of 5.5 million passengers over the course of the month. Just over 1.2 million passengers travelled through Heathrow in September, down 82% compared to 2019.
- Most travel is to the remaining European destinations on the UK’s travel corridors list. However, the number of countries on this list has steadily declined since its launch, with 61 countries now requiring a 14-day quarantine period.
- Long-haul business travel, which is vital for the UK’s economic recovery, continues to be restricted by international border closures and a lack of testing. York Aviation estimates that the UK economy is losing £32million a day because air travel with the US is effectively closed
- Cargo volumes, which are normally carried in the hold of passenger planes, fell by 28.2% compared to the same time last year, due to the lack of long-haul flights. Heathrow handles 40% of UK exports and supply chain, so this is a good barometer of the health of the UK economy.
- Last week, the Government announced the creation of a ‘Global Travel Taskforce’ jointly chaired by the Secretaries of State for Transport and Health and Social Care. The taskforce will consider how testing could be introduced to safely reduce the length of quarantine.
The figures below are interesting. If you look at the movements versus passengers it’s clear there are a lot of aircraft flying very empty or for the sake of cargo.
|Sep 2020||% Change||Jan to|
|% Change||Oct 2019 to|
|Asia / Pacific||119||-87.3||2,539||-70.6||5,377||-53.1|
|Air Transport Movements||Sep 2020||% Change||Jan to|
|% Change||Oct 2019 to|
|Asia / Pacific||1,624||-57.5||18,296||-48.4||30,205||-36.4|
If you are travelling to Barbados there has recently been a minor change to the testing protocols. The 3 day/72 hours has been causing a lot of issues and confusion so the latest guidelines which start from 16 October, state that it is now 3 days. So for example, if like me you were traveling on Sunday, you can get your test anytime on the Thursday. You can’t use a home test and it must have a date and time stamp on a lab report with the negative result.
EU introduces traffic light + testing system to reduce/end quarantine
The EU on the other hand has been pretty proactive in trying to unite its countries to common restrictions. I previously wrote about the traffic light system they were trying to implement to categorise a country’s risk factor for COVID. This makes far more sense than each country having separate criteria. According to The Telegraph this is likely to be adopted by the UK until the end of the year at least.
European Union countries agreed on Friday to a common “traffic light” system for entry restrictions such as testing or quarantines on EU travellers. The guidelines which will be formally adopted today 13 October, say that restrictions should be non-discriminatory, proportionate, and limited to what is necessary.
Countries and areas will be designated into red, amber, and green each week depending on how much the virus is under control. This will be done weekly by The European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control. At the current rates, there are virtually no areas that are green. The areas that would qualify are most of eastern Germany, parts of the Nordic and Baltic countries, Cyprus, certain regions of Bulgaria and Greece, and one zone in Italy.
The rates are determined as follows:
- green, if the notification rate is less than 25 and the test positivity rate is less than 4%;
- orange, if the notification rate is less than 50 but the test positivity rate is 4% or more, or, if the notification rate ranges from 25 to 150 but the test positivity rate is less than 4%;
- red, if the notification rate is 50 or more and the test positivity rate is 4% or more, or if the notification rate is more than 150;
- grey, if not sufficient information is available or if the testing rate is 300 or less.
There will be no restrictions, such as quarantine or testing, on travellers coming from ‘green’ regions. Countries may decide their own measure to apply on those from red or amber countries such as quarantine or testing. However, it will also require “mutual recognition” of Covid tests by countries and the Commission has stated that it wants testing to be the alternative to quarantine for travellers. The EU has commissioned health experts to develop protocols to achieve their goal.
The UK taskforce is expected to consider proposals for pre-departure testing up to 72 hours before arrival with a second test two or four days later in a similar way to Barbados. The other option is a test on arrival and then a second test at 7 days which would be better but is likely to do little to encourage travel.