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Travellers arriving in England will be able to end their quarantine period with a negative coronavirus test after five days from December 15, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced. The travel industry welcomed the policy but described it as “long overdue”. But Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary questioned plans to allow travellers arriving in England to end their COVID-19 quarantine early if get a negative coronavirus test five days after arrival.
Mr O’Leary said quarantine is “a fig leaf that doesn’t work”, adding the policy remains “not enforceable”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the idea is not very well thought out.
“I think the problem with this system in the UK is that you only have to isolate for five days. And we know that people simply don’t isolate.”
Under the new rules, passengers who arrive from a destination not on the Government’s travel corridors list will still need to enter self-isolation.
But they can reduce the 14-day period by paying for a test from a private firm on or after day five at a cost of £65-£120.
Results will normally be issued in 24 to 48 hours. This means people could be released from quarantine six days after arrival.
The change does not apply to people arriving in Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales, who must continue to self-isolate for 14 days.
Mr Shapps said: “We have a plan in place to ensure that our route out of this pandemic is careful and balanced, allowing us to focus on what we can now do to bolster international travel while keeping the public safe.
“Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business. By giving people the choice to test on day five, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This test on day five of the 14-day self-isolation period will identify positive coronavirus cases and allow those who test negative to return to work and see their loved ones while abiding by domestic coronavirus restrictions.
“This will be done at the cost of the traveller to protect the capacity of NHS Test and Trace and ensure that any UK resident who has symptoms is able to get a test.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the industry association representing UK-registered carriers, said the announcement provided “light at the end of the tunnel” for the aviation industry and people wanting to go on holiday.
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He predicted demand for air travel will “tentatively return” following the decision but said a pre-departure or domestic testing regime that can completely remove the need to self-isolate is “the only way we’re going to comprehensively reopen the market”.
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of travel trade organisation Abta, commented: “The test to release scheme in England should help to make overseas travel more attractive and manageable for both holidaymakers and business travellers.
“There is still more work to be done to get more people travelling and to support the recovery of the sector, including having a testing scheme in place for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the Government moving to a regional approach to quarantine and travel advice.”
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