Aviation chiefs have welcomed Boris Johnson’s hint that cheaper and quicker lateral flow testing for Covid-19 could be used to satisfy the UK’s post-arrival testing requirements.
Pressed on comments from easyJet chief Johan Lundgren that the current cost of testing could price many people out of overseas leisure travel altogether, Johnson on Tuesday (6 April) said the government would look to make the country’s inbound testing requirements "as flexible and as affordable as possible".
At present, those travelling to the UK can take a lateral flow test to satisfy the government’s pre-departure testing requirement. However, the tests required on day two and day eight of their 10 days’ self-isolation must be PCR tests.
Tim Alderslade, Chief executive of Airlines UK, the trade body for UK registered airlines, and Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, have written to the prime minister to stress the importance of using "cost-effective, rapid Covid-19 tests" as part of the government’s efforts to restart international travel.
Alderslade and Dee said a transition to a different testing standard, the type of which will be used to unlock parts of the UK’s leisure and hospitality industries, would be particularly important to restart travel from lower risk "green" countries under a new traffic light system set to be rolled out later in the spring.
"Airlines and airports are concerned about indications that travellers even from green countries would still require both pre-departure and post-arrival tests of an unknown specification, but possibly PCR," said the duo in their letter to the PM.
It comes after Lundgren noted a single PCR test would likely cost more than an average easyJet fare; under current travel rules, each traveller could be required to take up to four PCR tests as part of their journey – one outbound, one pre-departure prior to a return flight, and two upon return to the UK.
"Few people can afford to add hundreds of pounds in testing costs to a standard trip," read the letter. "This would create a significant barrier to travel for many and would risk preventing a meaningful restart this summer.
"We were pleased that you recognised this point in comments made earlier today and are grateful for your intention to work to make international travel as flexible and as affordable as possible.
"Our view is that in practice, this means that where testing is required, the use of cost-effective, rapid tests should be permitted. This should be similar to the kinds of tests that will be critical to the wider reopening up of the domestic economy, and have most recently be deployed in schools and other workplace settings and will be on offer, for free, to people in England twice a week."
Alderslade and Dee said a family of could could fast testing costs of £1,600 for a typical summer getaway to the Canaries. They added rapid antigen or lateral flow tests had shorter processing times and would address concerns over lab-based PCR testing capacity in the UK and overseas.
"We understand historic concerns about the accuracy of rapid tests," the letter added. "However, technology and evidence has moved on over the course of the pandemic, with rapid tests now in use in the UK across the economy and society, including in educational and health settings.
"As we look to recover from the pandemic, we continue to believe that we must not lose any opportunity to deploy the tools and new understanding available to us to enable travel to safely restart, whilst mitigating the health risks."