Health secretary Matt Hancock has played down the idea of a swift introduction to Covid-19 testing at airports.
During LBC’s Call The Cabinet phone-in show, Hancock was questioned by a corporate travel agent calling herself Wendy. She said she and her husband, an airline worker, were about to be made redundant.
She told Hancock that globally, the industry was worth a trillion dollars and employed 100 million people.
“You said previously airport testing would only reveal about 7% of infected cases, however with previous illnesses such as SARS and swine flu, airports have had thermal scanners checking everyone that’s passing through. That at least give the opportunity to identify some of the at-risk people.
“My question to you is if you are unable or unwilling to put these measures in place, what is the government doing to protect the travel industry in this country and what measures are you taking to protect and reassure travellers?”
Hancock told the caller: “My heart goes out to you because the travel industry has had a terrible time.”
“We are working to try to find a way to allow for the quarantine to be reduced, but done in a way that also keeps people safe.
“Sadly, unfortunately, just doing one test at the border doesn’t work because the virus can incubate for a period inside your body without a test being able to pick it up. So that’s why the day one testing doesn’t work.”
Show host Nick Ferrari asked if Hancock was aware of anger within his own party about the current policy and lack of testing: “Other countries use it at their airports and there’s a suggestion today that your Department for Transport colleagues reportedly rattled by Conservative anger over the 14-day quarantine policy are looking at testing eight days after arrival,” he said.
Hancock replied: “I’m not just made aware of it, I’m working with Grant Shapps and the travel industry and others. It’s one of the things we’d like to bring in as soon as it’s practical to do it.
“But you mention other countries have done this around the world, unfortunately all of the countries that brought in testing on day one have then changed that and brought it in at a later point; so it is something we’re working on but it isn’t something that is as straightforward as simply testing people when they get off a plane because of the number of people for whom that wouldn’t catch.”
Hancock said he thought everyone understood how important quarantine was: “Sadly if you look at the number of cases in India, Brazil and now closer to home in Spain and France, people can see why we’ve had to bring that policy in.”
Ferrari added: “There are thousands of jobs being lost almost on daily basis. “The airlines have got to get going again. Doesn’t it fall to you to work out a way to do this?
Hancock replied: “To work out a way to do it safely and that works and that protects people in this country because we’ve got to keep people safe here as well as allowing for travel. I’m really glad we did manage to bring in the travel corridors over the summer and many people were able to get away but obviously it’s nowhere near where it is in a normal year.”