Where is the UK with Travel Testing and Quarantine?

It is a confusing picture, but testing & reduction in quarantine times are essential if there is to be a ski season this winter for us Brits.

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Some of the ski nations have introduced entry requirements as Covid-19 cases are soaring in many parts of the UK with predictions of worse to come.

The number of countries introducing border measures is expected to grow and the UK’s exit from the EU on January 1st 2021 will not help as we will likely be outside any pan-European arrangements.

On the way back home the UK already has a 14-day quarantine period for people from the vast majority of the ski nations.

See here for an earlier PlanetSKI article that details the various requirements:

Coronavirus Restrictions Into and Out of Ski Countries for People from the UK

Many people are worried about flying and say if they knew planes and airports were safe, then they would consider flying again.

Without that situation they would not.

If things continue as they are, then there is unlikely to be a ski season for many British skiers and snowboarders.

However a number of initiatives are underway and there are plenty of grounds for hope.

Today, Tuesday 20th October, a trail scheme has started for people heading from Heathrow to Italy.

It could be the shape of things to come.

It’s a rapid Covid-19 test done before check- in.

However Italians require stricter molecular (PCR) or an antigenic test to meet entry requirements.

The country requires people to have a negative test, taken in the previous 72-hours.

The test will cost £80 and a result can take a mere 20 minutes.

It’s a rapid saliva swab test and is now available at Heathrow Terminals 2 and 5.

It  is known as a Lamp (Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification) test.

It’s faster than the PCR tests used by NHS because the swabs don’t need to be sent to a laboratory.

However the test is less accurate which is why the Italian authorities do not recognise it.

The government has set up a Task Force to look into quarantine measures and it is due to report in November.

However it has no representatives from the travel industry on it – only government and health officials.

It may recommend  a system where people pay for a test after a week of quarantine, to avoid the full two weeks.

It’s been dubbed a ‘test and release regime’.

“My ministerial colleagues and I have agreed a regime, based on a single test provided by the private sector and at the cost to the passenger, after a period of self-isolation and doing those things could achieve our objectives,” said the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps on Monday.

“The next step is to develop how this approach can be implemented.”

However even a week in quarantine may be too long for many people.

On Monday Mr Shapps also confirmed the government was in talks with the US Department of Homeland Security about a system involving “multiple tests”.

It could involve some sort of ‘air bridge’ between the two countries.

The Washington Post reports that the US Transportation Department and the Department of Homeland Security are talking to UK counterparts to set up a travel bubble.

A Homeland Security official is reported to have said the US is targeting a travel corridor ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday towards the end of November.

It will likely require the implementation of a pre-travel testing program before any agreement is reached.

Talks have focused on testing before departure and again on arrival.

UK residents are currently banned from entering the USA.

Travellers from the US need to isolate for 14-days coming into the UK.

It raises the prospect of being able to access ski resorts in the US.

The government is also reported to be looking at plans where people take a test a few days before they fly into the UK, and then another test on arrival.

Under this system it might make it possible for people to avoid quarantine altogether.

However, there are the obvious problems that if you are tested positive in a country before you set off back to the UK, then you would need to self-isolate in that country.

At the very least you could have to self-isolate abroad, likely at your own expense, and if you develop symptoms or full- blown illness you would be ill away from home.

Some may be prepared to take that risk for a week’s ski holiday.

Others likely would not.

In another development a digital health app is being tested.

People flying from Heathrow Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport on United Airlines flights will be among the first in the world to trial the new digital health app.

Volunteer travellers will take a Covid-19 test at a certified lab at Heathrow up to 72 hours before they fly.

The test results will then be uploaded to the CommonPass smartphone app, which will be scanned by airline staff and border officials.

It is also being tested on passengers travelling with Cathay Pacific between Hong Kong and Singapore.

The airline industry has been severely hit by the pandemic and it looks like a bleak winter ahead – Ryanair plans to operate at 40% of its normal capacity this winter, while Easyjet will have just 25% capacity.

British Airways is currently cutting thousands of jobs.

The International Air Transport Association estimates that it will be at least 2024 before air traffic reaches pre-pandemic levels.

Elsewhere in Europe France has said airport tests will be put in place by the end of October.

The rapid tests will be offered to passengers heading to the USA and Italy, plus people arriving from nations on the “red” coronavirus list.

It seems a fair bet that the current system will change as the winter approaches.

Us skiers and snowboarders need to hope that firstly new measures work and limit the spread of coronavirus.

And secondly they come soon.

In time for the ski season please.

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