Claims airport testing only catch 7% of COVID-19 cases ‘flawed’ – airlines demand review

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This year, Britons have largely relied on the UK’s travel corridor list to choose their holiday destinations. Countries on the quarantine list mean that Britons need to isolate for 14 days on their return to the UK. The travel corridor list has caused widespread chaos within the sector as companies and airlines try to keep up with the latest changes.

Many industry chiefs, unions and MPs have called on the government to implement airport testing on arrival as an alternative.

However, transport Secretary Grant Shapps has repeatedly cited a Public Health England (PHE) study which suggests that testing on arrival would pick up as few as seven percent of cases.

But new research suggests that this may not be the case.

According to the new data, the government underestimates the effectiveness of coronavirus testing of air passengers.

In fact, up to 63 percent of cases would be identified by testing travellers on arrival, a review by firms Oxera and Edge Health suggested.

The research by Oxera and Edge Health claimed the PHE study was based on “a flawed methodology” as it assumed all passengers who are infected with Covid-19 and detectable prior to departure would not board flights to the UK.

These travellers should be accounted for when considering the effectiveness of a testing regime, according to the review commissioned by airlines, airports and industry organisations including Virgin Atlantic, British Airways’ owner IAG and Heathrow Airport.

All of these companies have lost millions of pounds due to the collapse in demand resulting from travel restrictions during the pandemic.

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Edge Health co-founder George Batchelor said: “The way in which the PHE model is set up means that only a tiny proportion of infected passengers – those who become symptomatic or are asymptomatic but detectable by a PCR test during the flight – can be detected at arrival.

“This means the widely quoted seven percent excludes anyone who is in theory detectable or symptomatic before the flight takes off.

“This evidently isn’t the case, and it leads to an underestimation of the effectiveness of testing on arrival, raising serious questions about its role in informing Government policy on passenger testing.”

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss said: “Based on a Public Health England paper published back in June, UK government has insisted that testing on arrival at an airport would identify only seven percent of COVID-19 cases.

“Today’s new and independent analysis identifies flawed and outdated assumptions in that modelling, and reveals that testing will capture a vast majority of cases rather than the purported seven percent, which makes it the right solution.

“We urgently need the introduction of a passenger testing regime here in the UK to safely replace quarantine and support the UK’s economic recovery, which relies on free-flowing trade and tourism.”

Earlier this month, Mr Shapps launched the Global Travel Taskforce to develop ways to reduce the 14-day isolation period for people arriving from certain destinations overseas.

This research has been submitted to the UK government Global Travel Taskforce this week.

Passengers flying from Heathrow to Hong Kong on Tuesday were the first to have the option of paying for a Covid test before checking in.

The test costs £80 but passengers will get the result within an hour.

The test will help those travelling to destinations where proof of a negative coronavirus test is needed on arrival.

Some of the countries requiring a negative covid test from Britons on arrival are Madeira, Italy, Austria, Belgium and Cyprus.

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