U.K. Says Airport Tests ‘No Silver Bullet’ for Covid Quarantine

U.K. Says Airport Tests ‘No Silver Bullet’ for Covid Quarantine

September 6, 2020

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Boris Johnson’s government said quarantine regulations must stay in place until it’s safe to ease them, as it indicated that the U.K. isn’t close to rolling out a system of testing for the coronavirus at airports.

The aviation industry blames the requirement for travelers from certain countries — including major markets such as the U.S. — to self-isolate for 14 days for squashing demand. They’re urging the government to use testing on arrival to cut that period, but ministers say the long incubation period of Covid-19 and lack of reliability of the tests would make it unsafe to do so.

“It’s not a silver bullet,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News on Sunday, adding that the government’s focus is on preventing a new wave of infections. “The quarantine measures are an important element of that and we can’t ease up on them as much as we want to, until we’ve got a safe system to allow us to do that.”

The row over testing illustrates the balancing act facing ministers as they attempt to drag the economy out of its worst recession for 300 years while not allowing a resurgence of the coronavirus that might trigger another national shutdown. The opposition Labour Party said over the weekend a “robust testing regime” at airports could mitigate the travel industry’s crisis.

Job Cuts

London’s Heathrow Airport, which is pushing for the rollout of tests, told union officials that it is triggering a 45-day consultation period that could lead to compulsory job losses, Sky Newsreported, citing a person familiar with the matter. Up to 4,700 of the airport’s engineers, air-side operations and security staff would be included in the process, Sky said.

But the issue also highlights the difficulty facing the government as it tries to ramp up its coronavirus tracing program to halt local outbreaks. An airport testing system would require a follow-up test about a week later to catch potential infections, and officials have said mechanisms are not in place to ensure the correct person gives that second sample.

The track-and-trace program has consistently missed targets, and the government has faced criticism over the availability of tests amid reports some people were asked to drive hundreds of miles for checks.

On Sunday, Raab told the BBC the government’s priority is ensuring frontline workers get tests. “The direction of travel will be making sure we’ve got the testing capacity and the ability to — when the time is right — ease up on the self-isolation at home,” he said.

Back to Work

The foreign secretary also said the government won’t do anything that would risk a rise of imported infections while ministers are trying to get workers back into offices.

Remote working could deal a blow of 15.3 billion pounds ($20.3 billion) a year to the economy due to the impact on cleaners, coffee shops and security guards, the Times newspaper said, citing a report by accountancy firm PwC. The dent to GDP — about 1% — would be caused by lower spending from workers who are at home, and the knock-on impact of lower spending power for those who rely on them for work.

“We do need to get people back to work,” Raab said. “It is important to send the message that we need to get Britain back up and running, the economy motoring on all cylinders.”

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