UK task force to explore cutting coronavirus quarantine period


The UK government will on Wednesday launch a “travel task force” to explore ways to introduce Covid-19 testing for people arriving from foreign countries to reduce the current 14-day self-isolation quarantine period.

Ministers introduced a quarantine system in June under which people arriving from abroad had to self-isolate for two weeks, unless those countries were classified as safe under a traffic-light system.

As Covid-19 infection rates have risen across the world, many countries have been taken off the safe list, notably France, Spain, Portugal, Jamaica and Hungary.

Yet critics point out that the infection rate in parts of the UK is at present much higher than that in many countries from which visitors have to quarantine.

The aviation industry has been pushing for a two-test system under which travellers would be tested before departure, either at an airport or elsewhere, and then again about a week later. If both tests are negative then passengers would be able to end their self-isolation.

That initiative would be welcomed by business groups because it would mean that employees would not have to self-isolate for a fortnight.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said in early September that he was considering a form of a two-test system, raising the hopes of a travel industry that has been very badly affected by the pandemic.

In his announcement, expected at 2pm on Wednesday, the transport secretary is not expected to make any particular recommendation but will instead say the government wants to explore ways to reduce the quarantine period without any adverse health consequences.

The government has previously rejected the idea of a single test on people as they arrive in the country because this would only pick up about 7 per cent of asymptomatic cases.

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Yet some scientists have argued that a two-test system, with a seven-day gap in between, could increase the level of successful tests to 94 per cent.

Likewise, a two-test system with a five-day gap could still pick up 85 per cent of cases, according to some experts.

The government is expected to recommend that the tests will have to be paid for by travellers. Each test costs between £100 and £150.

“It would be substantial progress if ministers announce their intention for a 50 per cent cut in the quarantine period for travellers, to just seven days plus a test,” said Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency.

“If a travel task force is created to research and suggest the best outcomes for November, then it is better to have workable, longer-term solutions recommended by experts than a rushed policy which won’t instil more confidence now.”

The Department for Transport refused to comment.



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