Ministers to review airport covid testing scheme, dashing hopes of trial starting as early this week
- Was hoped trials of systems to cut quarantine times could begin tomorrow
- But Government sources said ministers were poised to launch a ‘taskforce’
- Boris Johnson understood to have asked for a ‘rapid review’ to be conducted
Hopes for an airport testing breakthrough this week look set to be dashed after ministers decided to launch another review of the issue.
The aviation industry had hoped trials of new systems designed to cut travel quarantine times could begin as soon as tomorrow.
But Government sources said ministers were instead poised to launch a ‘taskforce’ to study the subject, delaying hopes of action for weeks.
Hopes for an airport testing breakthrough this week look set to be dashed after ministers decided to launch another review of the issue. The coronavirus testing facility at Heathrow is pictured above
Boris Johnson is understood to have asked ministers and officials to conduct a ‘rapid review’ into the feasibility of using testing to ease restrictions on travellers.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Health Secretary Matt Hancock are expected to lead the review, which will study the way other countries use testing to reduce quarantine times, and assess whether the UK has the capacity to follow suit.
Chaos as just 63 per cent of 16,000 virus carriers are traced
The search for nearly 16,000 people who tested positive for coronavirus but were missed due to a computer glitch yesterday remained mired in confusion.
Test and trace staff are still battling to catch up with the enormous backlog caused by officials opting to use an inadequate computer programme.
Downing Street said 63 per cent of the positive cases had been contacted by 9.30am yesterday.
But staff said there were still major problems with the system.
One source added that a single household had been contacted 75 times over the weekend.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted in the Commons he was unable to confirm how many people had been affected by the blunder.
Labour asked how many of the estimated 48,000 contacts had now been traced, but Mr Hancock said the number would not be known until all those missed had been contacted.
Meanwhile, charity boss Mark Adams told MPs and peers care home testing is stuck in the ‘Dark Ages’ with residents and staff waiting up to ten days for results.
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus heard the testing system has ‘gone backwards’ since summer, putting thousands of residents at risk.
The new body will also look at ways to breathe new life into the vital aviation sector.
Industry leaders are pushing for travellers to be tested at the airport and then re-tested a few days later in order to cut the current 14-day quarantine time which is crippling the sector and wrecking families’ travel plans.
But a Government source said pressure on testing capacity meant ministers were likely to focus on a single-test solution, with travellers asked to quarantine for five or eight days before being tested.
They defended the controversial quarantine regime, saying as many as 10 per cent of new cases in the UK over the summer are thought to have been brought in from abroad.
The decision to launch a review will dismay the aviation industry, which has been campaigning for the change for months, and which has offered to trial its own systems.
It also comes as a blow to the Mail’s Get Britain Flying campaign, launched last month to encourage the Prime Minister to lift the ‘closed’ sign hanging over the UK.
But a Government source last night insisted that the launch of the taskforce was a sign that ministers were finally taking the issue seriously.
‘Everyone gets the importance of international travel to the economy and business, and to people’s lives – that is why it is being looked at,’ the source said.
‘But we also have to recognise the constraints on testing capacity and come up with the most effective solution. That will take a little time.’
A Department for Transport spokesman insisted there was no delay over plans for airport testing, adding: ‘As we’ve been clear, work is ongoing with clinicians and health experts on the practicalities of using testing to reduce the self-isolation period for international arrivals.’
The move comes amid growing Tory disquiet over the tough travel policy which requires people to quarantine for 14 days if arriving from a ‘hotspot’ country.
Italy, Sweden and Greece face possible restrictions later this week.
Meanwhile, a new study yesterday suggested that fewer than 1 per cent of air passengers test positive after seven days in quarantine.
Research commissioned by Air Canada and carried out by McMaster Health Labs and the University of Toronto, suggests a two-test regime could be a safe alternative.
Some 13,000 travellers arriving into Toronto Pearson International Airport were tested on arrival, and had a second swab after seven days in quarantine.
Fewer than 130 tested positive, with 80 per cent of cases picked up on arrival – suggesting a single-test could detect most cases.
The rest – a mere handful – were picked up seven days later.
The aviation industry had hoped trials of new systems designed to cut travel quarantine times could begin as soon as tomorrow. But Government sources said ministers were instead poised to launch a ‘taskforce’ to study the subject