During a visit to Solihull to launch the HS2 rail project’s construction phase, the Prime Minister said he understood “the difficulties” the airline industry is going through but added that testing at points of entry such as airports only identifies seven per cent of Covid-19 cases.
He said: “So 93 per cent of the time you could have a real false sense of security, a false sense of confidence when you arrive and take a test.
“That’s why the quarantine system that we have has got to be an important part of our repertoire, of our toolbox, in fighting Covid.
“What we don’t want to see is reinfection coming in from abroad and quarantine is a vital part of that.”
Not obeying quarantine directives is punishable by a fine, and is a criminal offence.
The Government’s two-week quarantine period has been criticised by travel industry leaders, who have called for a more “nuanced” approach.
Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group, the parent company of British Airways, warned this week that the “ever-shifting list” of countries requiring quarantine means “the UK has officially hung up the ‘closed’ sign”.
The UK system has also been accused of being an inadequate stand-in for a testing regime in place at airports, with follow-up by the NHS Test and Trace system. Germany has put in place testing facilities at major airports, and implemented regional rather than blanket quarantines for countries in some cases in order to minimise disruption.
The quarantine rules have seen holidaymakers spend hundreds of pounds for last-minute flights back from popular destinations to beat quarantine implementation deadlines.
Races back to the UK have been seen from France, Spain and Croatia when the countries were added to the Government’s list.
Amid fears that Portugal would be re-added to the “red zone” list this week, Britons on holiday there paid large sums for last-minute flights back to the UK, only to find out the country was remaining exempt from quarantine. This led to a widespread backlash on Friday.
The policy was also criticised as being inconsistent for Britain, as Scotland added Portugal and several Greek islands to its list of countries requiring quarantine.
Senior Conservatives have backed industry calls for testing at airports. “It’s baffling that the UK has failed to put an airport testing regime in place when so many other countries did so many weeks ago,” Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, told The Times.
“Given that rates of hospital admissions and deaths continue to fall, this all looks so unnecessary. Jobs and livelihoods are being sacrificed.”
Nick Shay, Head of Travel at global digital consultancy Publicis Sapient, told the Standard that a comprehensive test on arrival scheme at airports could act like a “shot in the arm” for the sector.
But he warned that if the current situation continues, companies faces a difficult few months on top of a summer holiday season devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“With schools opening up this month signalling the end of the family holiday travel season, airports and airlines should be prepared for a tough autumn ahead,” Mr Shay said.
“However, the recent announcement that NHS Scotland will be using a 12-minute test could be a game changer. If pressure from airports leads to the Government endorsing a test-upon-arrival scheme then this could be the shot in the arm that the travel industry needs.”
Last month an Office for National Statistics survey revealed just nine per cent of Britons think they are likely to go on a foreign holiday this year, with one in five already having cancelled plans. It showed just one in 10 respondents said they would make travel plans with the knowledge that they would have to quarantine on return.