Matt Hancock today dismissed desperate pleas for coronavirus testing at airports as he was warned that the government is overseeing the ‘demise of UK aviation’.
The Health Secretary rejected the idea that screening arrivals at major hubs could help revive travel and remove the need for quarantine, insisting it would only catch 7 per cent of cases.
Expectations had been growing that Portugal would be added to the ‘red’ list, leaving thousands of Britons facing a dash to beat a potential 4am Saturday deadline to avoid self-isolating for 14 days.
But it was dramatically spared from quarantine rules tonight despite high infections rates.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the weekly review was making no additions or removals to the list of countries exempted from self-isolation rules.
Sources told MailOnline that although Portugal was above the ‘trigger’ threshold for cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period, that appeared to be because they were carrying out more tests.
‘The rate of positives per test has actually gone down,’ one senior source said.
Officials in England are still resisting calls to follow Wales and Scotland by putting restrictions on Greece.
Although the authorities in Athens declared another 233 cases in the past 24 hours, the seven-day rate per 100,000 of population has dipped to 13.8 – well below the government’s trigger threshold of 20.
The rate of coronavirus cases per 100,000 of population in Greece over the past seven days is just 14 – well short of the government’s quarantine threshold of 20
Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured on Sky News today) dismissed the idea that screening arrivals at major hubs could help revive travel and remove the need for quarantine, insisting it would only catch 7 per cent of cases
Countries on UK Government’s quarantine list
Derek Provan, chief executive of ASG Airports which runs Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton airports, said: ‘The UK government is overseeing the demise of the aviation industry.
‘We are seeing more job losses than we saw in the demise of the coal industry in the 1980s.
‘That, surely, cannot be an accolade that any government would like to have.’
The chiefs of Virgin Atlantic and Heathrow Airport have called for ‘leadership’ on the testing issue, warning that huge numbers of job are on the line.
But pushed on the issue of testing on BBC Breakfast this morning, Mr Hancock said: ‘There’s a really good reason we don’t do that.
‘That is that the virus incubates in you and therefore if you test on day one on return, scientists reckon you find only about 7 per cent of the total cases.
‘You still have to quarantine. It doesn’t clinically work.’
He went on: ‘In fact the countries around the world that have introduced these tests on arrival are now moving away from it and doing the testing much later.’
The rate of Covid cases in Portugal has been above 20 per 100,000 for the past three days – the level at which the government considers introducing a quarantine.
Yesterday the number of new cases rose to 390 from 231 the day before, suggesting the current seven-day average of 22.7 will not decrease.
Meanwhile, cases in Greece are currently at a similar level to the UK. Paul Charles, boss of travel consultancy PC Agency, said the ‘stable’ situation in the country suggested the Scottish government’s decision to put it on the red list was ‘extreme’.
He predicted Portugal would be added to the list but Greece and Italy would stay off it.
Any changes to quarantine arrangements are now announced on Thursday nights, with the new rules being imposed at 4am on Saturdays.
The previous two-week quarantine for travellers returning from Portugal was only lifted two weeks ago.
Pressure is now mounting on England to consider imposing quarantine rules on travellers arriving from Greece amid reports of people returning with coronavirus.
Rising Covid cases prompted the Scottish Government to announce travellers from Greece would have to self-isolate for 14 days from today, while Wales began asking arrivals from the island of Zante to enter quarantine.
The UK’s biggest tour operator Tui has suspended its holidays to the resort of Laganas on Zante.
But Greece has insisted it is doing ‘everything in our power’ to keep UK holidaymakers safe.
There were 14.3 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people in Greece in the seven days to September 1, up from 14.1 a week earlier. This is a similar rate to the UK and still below the quarantine threshold.
It comes as rising cases in Portugal were prompting many UK tourists to pay hundreds of pounds to fly home before Saturday.
In Buckinghamshire, two groups of people have tested positive for coronavirus after returning from abroad – including a group of teenagers from the Marlow area who are reported to have been on a trip to Zante.
Buckinghamshire Council said some of them were pupils at Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School and all the affected households were self-isolating.
Tour operator Tui also said it was aware of a ‘small number’ of positive Covid-19 test results following a flight from Heraklion in Crete to London Stansted on August 27.
One of Lisbon’s main railway stations largely deserted yesterday as holidaymakers stayed away amid a rise in cases
Authorities impose new restrictions on the island of Zante as fears grow holiday destinations could become new covid hotspot
- Local restrictions have been put in place on the islands of Zante/Zakynthos amid fears of a rise in coronavirus cases. These include:
- Suspension of any kind of live events and celebrations such as parties, trade fairs, religious ceremonies, open markets etc.
- Prohibition of operation of all food/catering sector-related shops, services and facilities from midnight – 7am the next day.
- A ban on gatherings of more than 9 people, either indoors or outdoors;
- A limit of 4 people per table in any restaurant, except for cases where the party consists of family members, where the limit is 6 people;
- Mandatory use of face masks in indoor and outdoor public spaces.
One passenger on the flight, who had been contacted by NHS Test and Trace and asked to self-isolate, complained that ‘hardly anyone’ on the flight had been wearing a mask.
The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, told the PA news agency: ‘Our flight was hideous, hardly anyone wore a mask and the crew didn’t do anything about it.
‘We raised the issue twice with the cabin crew who still didn’t enforce it. My family is okay but we are having to self-isolate.
‘I’m so sad for my son because he has to miss his first week back at school.’
A Tui spokeswoman added: ‘We can confirm that no guests tested positive for Covid-19 in our hotels and no symptoms were displayed before or during the flight home by any of the customers.’
It came after Public Health Wales confirmed at least 16 cases of Covid-19 from three different parties who were on Tui flight 6215 from Zante to Cardiff on August 25.
One traveller claimed that the flight was full of ‘selfish ‘covidiots”, with passengers not wearing their masks properly and disregarding the rules.
In a statement, Tui said that cabin crew and other passengers confirmed there were multiple warnings about wearing face masks on the flight.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reported that officials had not notified Wizz Airline that eight passengers on a flight back from Crete had tested positive for coronavirus.
The teenagers, from Hampshire, were diagnosed after returning to London Luton airport on 25 August, it said.
But the Department of Health and Social Care said that it had taken action to advise the necessary people to self-isolate and its contact tracing team had been in touch with Wizz Air.
The UK’s biggest tour operator Tui has suspended its holidays to the resort of Laganas on Zante after an outbreak
Government is ‘overseeing the demise of UK aviation’: Airport and airline chiefs call for testing of arrivals to stop Britons playing ‘quarantine roulette’ – as industry sheds thousands of jobs
By Henry Martin for MailOnline
Airline industry bosses are calling for testing at airports to help save their struggling industry.
Heathrow announced it may have to axe up to 1,200 frontline staff due to the pandemic’s impact on air travel – while the airport’s boss John Holland-Kaye warned Britons face playing ‘quarantine roulette’.
Tuesday saw Scotland and Wales impose restrictions on travellers from Greece – although Westminster refused to follow suit.
Ministers are, however, on the brink of putting Portugal back on the ‘red list’ just days after it was removed.
Heathrow said the constantly shifting quarantine rules led to an ‘unprecedented’ 82 per cent drop in passenger numbers in August compared with last year.
The chief executive of AGS Airports, which runs Southampton, Aberdeen and Glasgow, now says the sector is facing more job cuts than in the demise of the coal industry in the 1980s.
Derek Provan told the BBC: ‘That’s surely not an accolade any government would like to have.’
Heathrow announced it may have to axe up to 1,200 frontline staff due to the pandemic’s impact on air travel (pictured: Heathrow Airport)
Chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, Shai Weiss, says bringing in testing is ‘essential’ to reboot Britain’s economy.
‘Without free and fast travel with the US, we won’t see a rebound of aviation and this will stall the economic recovery of the UK, which of course is already in recession,’ he said.
Dozens of Tory MPs, including ex-ministers, have joined calls for airport virus testing.
They are requesting an urgent Commons debate to demand answers over the lack of government action on the issue.
The airline industry believes that testing to slash the 14-day quarantine period is the best way to give people the confidence to travel.
But ministers have been cool on the issue, with sources suggesting that reluctance to back such a scheme is down to in-fighting between departments.
One senior Tory MP told the Mail: ‘The Transport Secretary has urged caution on testing but I know he wants to find a solution to help the industry. The difficulty is finding one that the other departments agree with.
‘The Prime Minister knows that more work needs to be done on airport testing but there is a lack of enthusiasm from senior members of Cabinet.
‘They are very concerned that the proposed tests aren’t accurate enough. Equally, they know the travel industry is on the brink and something will have to change sooner rather than later.’
The country’s coronavirus cases hit 22.7 per 100,000 people over seven days – breaking the Government’s quarantine threshold of 20.
It also emerged that dozens of Tory MPs, including ex-ministers, have joined calls for airport virus testing (pictured, Heathrow on Tuesday)
Such a move would affect an estimated 75,000 Britons, and cap off a summer of hell for the travel industry.
Speaking at an Aviation Club event yesterday, Mr Holland-Kaye said: ‘Few people are going to fly if they have to play ‘quarantine roulette’.
‘Ultimately our aim is for testing and quarantine to happen before you fly, removing the risk of quarantine on landing.
‘This requires a common international standard for biosecurity, where testing that happens in one country will be accepted in another.
‘The UK could be in a perfect position to lead this common international standard.’
Former Tory aviation minister Theresa Villiers said: ‘Airport testing could shorten quarantine times and encourage people to start travelling again.
‘I hope the Government will work closely with the aviation industry to make to best use of airport testing.’
A Department for Transport spokesman said quarantine decisions are based on a ‘risk assessment, which is informed by a number of factors, including the continued increase of coronavirus within a country and the numbers of new cases and potential trajectory of the disease in the coming weeks’.
They added: ‘We keep the data for all countries under constant review, and update our exemptions list… on a regular basis to reflect the shifting international health picture.’