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The UK Government Rules Out Airport Testing As A Way To Avoid Quarantine

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The UK currently imposes a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine on anyone arriving into the country from somewhere that isn’t on its list of low-risk locations and, for the past few months, various travel industry leaders have been lobbying the government to offer alternatives to quarantine. The principal suggestion for an alternative has revolved around the government testing arriving passengers for Covid-19 and then allowing those who test negative to bypass self-isolation but, as of earlier today, that course of action has been firmly ruled out.

What Has Been Said

At a virtual online convention for a British travel association, the UK’s transport secretary, Grant Shapps, today told delegates that the government knows “for certain” that testing travelers as soon as they arrive in the UK “won’t help”. The reasoning supposedly behind this is that the government fears that the tests are not robust enough to catch a significant number of asymptomatic travelers.

The transport secretary suggested that testing arriving travelers “after about a week” (and at the passenger’s expense) may be an option that would allow people to leave quarantine a little earlier, and he also suggested that having travelers self-isolate before arrival into the UK is being considered.


I’m certainly not a fan of the current UK government but as much as I’d like to see travel opening up again it’s hard not to have a little sympathy for the government’s stance.

I’ve read a lot of people claiming that the science that says that testing on the day of arrival isn’t robust is incorrect and that it has been debunked, but if you look closely at who’s making these claims it’s often people from the travel industry, people with close links to the travel industry or people with a vested interest in seeing travel get back to normal. I’m not sure those are the sort of people we should be listening to when it comes to controlling the virus.

The only people that should have an opinion here are the government’s own scientists and, as things stand today, they are the ones suggesting that testing upon arrival isn’t a great way to ensure that more of the virus isn’t imported from abroad. That’s good enough for me.

Having said all of that, the UK government is far from blameless when it comes to this mess. Most countries have been considering how to open up the travel world for months while the geniuses in Whitehall haven’t got any further than setting up a task force to look into the issue…and they only announced that last week!

In addition, the two suggestions that the government currently appears to be considering strike me as either pointless or unworkable.

The current mandatory self-isolation period is 14 days and the current turnaround time for government Covid tests is anywhere between one and seven days. This means that the best anyone can hope for (if the government proceeds with testing 7 days after arrival) is to get out of quarantine 6 days early. They may even not get out early at all. So what’s the point? People may travel if they think they’ll be allowed out into the community after 2-3 days of self-isolation, but no one who isn’t traveling already is going be encouraged to travel while the self-isolation period is longer than that.

The suggestion that people may be allowed to self-isolate before arriving in the UK as a way of bypassing the country’s self-isolation rules upon arrival is laughable. Who’s does the UK government expect to monitor people who are supposed to be self-isolating abroad? Will they be sending teams out all across the world or are they going to expect foreign governments to do their work for them? As suggestions go, this one has to be just about the dumbest one the UK government has come up with so far…and there’s an impressive list to choose from!

a bridge over water with towers and towers

The big irony here is that the UK’s infection rates are already spiking like crazy (mostly due to the selfishness and idiocy of the younger generations), so any carriers arriving into the country are unlikely to do much more damage than certain segments of the population already are. On top of this, with infection rates going through the roof, there’s a very good chance the UK is about to be put back on the “don’t visit” list of most of the countries that currently allow their citizens to visit so the whole idea of opening up the country to visitors may well be moot.

Bottom Line

The UK government has effectively ended any hopes the travel industry may have had that it would allow visitors and returning citizens to bypass the current mandatory 14-day self-isolation period if they pass a Covid test upon arrival. The government has suggested that it is exploring a couple of alternative options but as neither appears to have originated from a person with common sense, these are unlikely to lead anywhere.

Essentially, nothing will be changing for the better any time soon. Changes for the worse, however, are looking increasingly likely.

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  1. What about having people do a test about 5 days before flying, do a rapid test at the airport (or the new dog system seems to be awful close to 100% accurate including asymptomatic people but it takes time to train the dogs), and do another rapid test upon arrival. Between the three, that should catch just about all the cases. If they wanted to take things even further, they could do some sort of mandatory wristband that’s color coded to show your testing status and combine that with yet another test 5-7 days after arrival. If the fines for “losing” the wristband were severe enough, travelers would just put up with it, although an app might be less problematic.

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