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Airlines call for Covid travel tests to be scrapped for good

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Written by: Emma Lunn
21/01/2022
Airlines UK and the Manchester Airport Group (MAG) have called for the return to restriction-free travel, on the basis that testing is not effective against new Covid variants.

According to research conducted by consultants Oxera and Edge Health, governments are not able to implement travel restrictions quickly enough for them to be effective in limiting the spread of new, more infectious variants of coronavirus.

As a result, imposing travel restrictions in response to the discovery of a new variant will not help control the spread of a new variant or protect public health.

The travel testing sector has proven controversial with firms gaming the system with misleading pricing in order to be placed at the top of the government’s approved list of providers. Tests can add hundreds of pounds to the cost of a family holiday.

Pre-departure and post-arrival PCR tests were scrapped on 5 January after government accepted that they served no purpose once the Omicron variant had become dominant in the UK.

That led to calls from across the industry to scrap the remaining requirement for post-arrival lateral flow tests, a call MAG and Airlines UK is now reinforcing.

The organisations claim that, as Omicron showed, it takes several weeks before governments become aware of new variants, and even longer to assess if they are variants of concern. By the time a new variant has been discovered and evaluated, it is too late for restrictions to make any difference.

Charlie Cornish, CEO of the Manchester Airport Group, said: “It is critical that travel policies are based on the best available analysis and the latest findings from Oxera and Edge Health show conclusively that testing for international travel will not deliver significant benefits in managing the spread of new variants.

“As we learn to live with Covid-19, it is important that people are allowed to travel free of the additional cost and uncertainty which testing creates. This study provides ministers with the clear evidence that this is achievable.

“The UK government has taken the step the remove domestic restrictions, and it should now apply this approach to international travel. We must allow the country’s worst hit sector to resume its road to recovery, and for the UK economy to benefit from the billions of pounds of economic value aviation generates.”

Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, said: “Testing restrictions for the fully vaccinated make no sense at all given the delay in governments being able to detect and act on the arrival of a new variant, as we saw with Omicron. This is something the World Health Organisation themselves have admitted. Not only do they fail to suppress the international spread of variants, they place a disproportionate burden on the travel sector and those that rely on the connectivity aviation provides.”

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