MPs have called on the government’s Global Travel Taskforce to report to prime minister Boris Johnson “as soon as possible”, amid fears that delays will jeopardise travel over the festive season.
The taskforce had originally been due to report to Johnson in early November giving options on how Covid-19 testing regimes could help to open up international travel. Transport secretary Grant Shapps said last week he hoped the current 14-day quarantine period could be reduced by Christmas.
MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the transport committee, told a House of Commons debate on the future of aviation: “We still have not heard anything and while we cannot do anything right now, during November, there is so much negativity that we need to show real signs of opening.
“Perhaps the minister [aviation minister Robert Courts] can pass on that I would like Number 10 to ensure we get early indications of what the testing mechanism would be. Let us unlock our skies again.”
Labour MP Seema Malhotra added: “The government has said that families will be able to fly abroad for Christmas with a new testing regime, but that is still six weeks away.
“United Airlines has already begun pilots on the London-New York route, but closer international working is needed. Is the government planning to commit to a common international standard for health screening measures? The UK lags behind more than 30 countries around the globe that are doing more on aviation testing.”
Aviation minister Robert Courts insisted that “the taskforce will report back to the prime minister very soon”.
“It is looking at how a domestic testing regime for international arrivals could be implemented in order to boost safe travel to and from the UK, and to allow UK residents to travel with confidence,” added Courts.
“It will consider what steps we can take to facilitate global business and tourist travel, including through bilateral agreements and multilateral forums.”
Former transport secretary Chris Grayling called for the opening up of key transatlantic routes to major US cities.
“If we can test the whole population of Liverpool quickly and effectively, why can we not open a handful of key economic routes quickly using those same technologies?” asked Grayling.
“Why can we not reopen routes to New York and Washington, for example, setting aside the quarantine rules for those people who travel those routes and test negatively?”