Covid-19 tests before takeoff, urges Gatwick boss

By Luke Barras-hill |

Tests-pre-flight-Gatwick

Arriving travellers at British airports and ports will be placed in quarantine for up to a fortnight under new government measures, according to two leading UK national newspapers.

Gatwick Airport’s Chief Executive Stewart Wingate has said the UK government should consider introducing coronavirus (Covid-19) tests for passengers 48 hours before they fly once the lockdown is lifted.

In comments made to UK national newspaper The Times, verified by TRBusiness, the head of Britain’s second busiest airport has suggested travellers should be subjected to compulsory examinations before they board aircraft.

A requirement for passengers to carry ‘health passports’ and wear face covers during flights should also be considered, according to Wingate.

It is gathered that similar measures are being discussed across Europe.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Emirates in partnership with the Dubai Public Health Authority is conducting rapid on-site pre-departure testing of Covid-19 passengers, while protective barriers have been installed at check-in desks and face masks, gloves and hand sanitisers have been made mandatory on all flights.

‘SECOND PHASE’ QUARANTINE PLANAirline-checks-government-UK

Gatwick’s call to stimulate the air transport network comes as The Times reports that the Department of Transport has established a ‘working group’ of civil servants and aviation industry leaders to assist the recovery of global air travel from Covid-19.

The government has received criticism surrounding what is believed to be around 15,000 passengers arriving into the UK on a daily basis without undergoing virus checks.

Heathrow’s Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye has reportedly called on the government in a letter to apply common international standards to health screening at UK airports.

Speaking to the BBC’s Radio 4 Broadcasting House programme, Henk van Klavaren, Head of Public Affairs and PR at the Airport Operators Association (AOA) said: “Airports are following advice from public health authorities and with community spreading of the virus, experts believe there is limited use on screening upon entry, for example, temperature screening.

“At the same time, there are thousands of British citizens stranded abroad who do want to get home and we do want to be able to facilitate that.

“We as the AOA are certainly calling on government to work internationally to get a common international baseline for these [screening] measures so people have a clear understanding of what is expected in travel – for aviation it’s crucial we do that on an international level.”

On Friday (24 April), Transport Secretary Grant Shapps stated that approaches to airport testing would be kept ‘under review’ as the UK emerges from the pandemic.

Manchester-Airport-empty-terminal

Above and below: Empty passenger terminal areas at Manchester Airport, which consolidated all its existing flights into Terminal 1 last month. Source: Susan Strange.

However, The Sunday Telegraph and Daily Mail have since reported that passengers arriving at airports and ports will be placed in quarantine for up to two weeks under a ‘second phase’ government response to the pandemic.

On 13 March, the government announced it was cancelling earlier guidance on self-isolation for travellers arriving from Iran, Italy and Wuhan.

In a Tweet on 25 April, Yvette Cooper, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee said the government stopped the policy around the same time as community testing and tracing, adding she has called on the government many times to explain the decision and publish the science around it.

Empty-Man-T1-Covid

Asked by Radio 4 whether airports are braced for a tightening of the rules surrounding quarantine, the AOA’s van Klavaren added: “We would echo the need to publish the evidence behind the decision not to do screening at airports. I think that would give passengers confidence that it was done on the basis of clear evidence. That evidence goes all the way back to SARS in the early 2000s.

“Let’s see what comes out. We want the government to take an evidence-led approach. If that does mean we go for stronger measures, as suggested and hinted at, we should look at how do we ensure that government support airports to get through that prolonged period of time with little or no passengers as it will have a profound impact on the travel sector if strong measures aren’t put in place.

“Let’s see if we can do more limited measures in the first instance on an international baseline and then see what the next steps should be if that is not possible.”

For airlines, the mounting crisis will cost European carriers an estimated $89bn in revenue this year, according to the International Air Transport Association.

At UK level, this could translate to 140 million fewer passengers and a $26.1bn dent in finances, putting at risk nearly 661,200 jobs and around $50.3bn in economic contributions.

Gatwick temporarily closed the North Terminal and consolidated its passenger facilities into the South Terminal on 1 April. The South Terminal is serving all remaining departure and arrival flights.

Main image courtesy of Gatwick Airport.

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