The transport secretary has said he hopes the current 14 days of self-isolation required of most arrivals to the UK could be almost halved from the start of December.
Grant Shapps told the Airlines 2050 online conference that he is “very, very, very keen to ensure that people can safely travel”.
Mr Shapps co-chairs the Global Travel Taskforce with the health secretary, Matt Hancock. He revealed the body is to recommend to the prime minister that incoming passengers should be able to take a PCR test, at their expense, a week after arrival.
If it is negative they will be able to leave quarantine. The so-called “test-and-release” scheme is likely to allow passengers to leave quarantine on day eight of their self-isolation.
The transport secretary said: “We’ve already worked incredibly fast. We’re talking to vast parts of the testing industry.”
Earlier, the new chief executive of British Airways dismissed the plan to half the length of quarantine. Sean Doyle told the same virtual event: “Even if that quarantine period is reduced, to say seven days, people won’t travel here and the UK will get left behind.”
At present, BA is typically carrying fewer than 200 passengers each day between London and New York. Before the coronavirus pandemic, it flew 5,000-6,000 travellers daily on the world’s premier intercontinental link.
Mr Shapps also repeated his hope that a pilot programme could allow travel between the UK and US resume, using pre-flight testing and possibly quarantine before departure.
Heathrow airport has had facilities for airport coronavirus testing since July 2020.
“The UK can lead the way on this,” said the transport secretary.
The chief executive of Gatwick airport demanded urgent action. Stewart Wingate said: “The aviation industry across Europe is starting to coalesce behind a single, harmonised approach to testing.
“The taskforce should certainly do everything possible to ensure an approved testing system for travellers is in place in time for people to visit friends and family at Christmas.”
On Brexit, Mr Shapps said: “We very much hope to have a deal in place.”
He said he expected the European Union to come forward with an agreement to allow UK-EU flights to continue beyond 31 December 2020, if no deal is completed.