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U.K. airports lined up to criticize Britain’s slow progress toward Covid-19 testing for arriving passengers and said the government must also address pre-departure screening if quarantine rules are to be eradicated.
Air travel is effectively on hold for as long as the state insists on 14 days of self isolation for people flying in from all but a handful of destinations even outside the current U.K. lockdown, the heads of hubs including London Heathrow, Manchester and Glasgow warned at an industry event Monday.
“We cannot cost-cut our way to survival,”Heathrow Chief Executive Officer John Holland-Kaye said at the 2020 Airport Operators Association conference. “We need to get people flying again, and testing is the only game in town.”
A Heathrow spokesman added that while news of aPfizer Inc. vaccine that prevented more than 90% of coronavirus infections in a study could pave the way for a revival in travel, a form of passenger testing must remain a priority if people are to fly safely in the short to medium term.
Some 100,000 jobs at U.K. airports are at risk from the pandemic, including 20,000 direct posts, many of which have already gone, the AOA said at the virtual gathering. A vaccine wouldn’t immediately ease the crisis because it would need to be distributed worldwide for countries to universally ease strict border restrictions.
U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in pre-recorded comments to the conference that the U.K. is making good progress with plans for testing on arrival and aims to introduce such a regime once a month-long English lockdown that began last week is lifted, without offering a specific timescale.
A task force on airport testing is also working with other countries on pre-departure screening, which he said holds out the greatest hope for eradicating quarantines altogether, rather than merely reducing them to less than a week.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham criticized Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s approach, telling the conference there had been a lack of urgency in moving forward with at-airport testing, as well as an absence of meaningful financial support for the aviation industry.
“If the government wasn’t going to provide public support they should have at least prioritized a plan for testing,” he said. “To do neither is quite neglectful.”
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