- in Science
A senior Conservative MP has called for coronavirus testing to be introduced at UK airports in order to cut quarantine to “less than five days”.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said results should be given to passengers inside two hours.
He told BBC Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster there should be a second test four or five days later.
But Boris Johnson rejected Mr Davis’s idea, saying airport tests gave a “false sense of security”.
Coronavirus infection rates have risen recently in the UK and many of the main destinations for UK tourists, including Spain and France.
People entering the UK from countries not on exemption lists drawn up by the UK’s four governments face 14 days of self-isolation.
But critics say this is too long, unenforceable and damaging to the economy.
Mr Davis told The Week in Westminster, in an interview to be broadcast on Saturday, that testing at airports was a “necessity” and much of the “science” used – including the UK government’s contention that only 7% of cases can be picked up on day one of an infection – had been “guesswork from the beginning”.
France and Germany are using testing at airports for passengers arriving from countries with a higher infection rate.
Mr Davis, MP for Haltemprice and Howden, said: “What you ought to have is a test at the airport with a fast response, not a 24-hour one – an hour or two or less, if you can.
“And then if anybody is positive, they should be quarantined right there.”
Mr Davis suggested the UK government, which oversees health policy in England, should hire some of the “plenty of empty hotels the moment” near under-used airports to house those who are infected.
He added that passengers who test negative at airports should be checked again four or five days later to ascertain that the earlier result was not false.
Mr Davis said: “If you have to have a quarantine, you can reduce your timescale to less than five days.
“For most people, it’s manageable. But two weeks for a factory worker or two weeks for somebody who works in a garage, who works as a salesman or saleswoman and in a store, that’s crippling for for many of my less well-off constituents.”
Science ‘Arms around business’
The aviation industry – which has shed thousands of jobs during the pandemic – is also calling for coronavirus testing at airports.
On Thursday, former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair said quarantine restrictions were “killing” international travel and that testing trials should have been set up “several months ago”.
The different national administrations of the UK decide their own quarantine rules. Their exemption lists are mainly the same, but this week, Scotland and Wales removed Portugal and parts of Greece, while England and Northern Ireland did not.
On a visit to an HS2 construction site near Birmingham, Boris Johnson said: “The particular problem is that everyone thinks you can have some test at the airport that will answer whether you’ve got it or not.
“Unfortunately it only works in 7% of the cases, so 93% of the time you could have a real false sense of security, false sense of confidence when you arrive and take a test.”
The prime minister added that quarantine had to remain “an important part of our repertoire, of our toolbox, in fighting Covid”.
He said he understood the difficulties airlines faced and “how tough” it was for employees.
“We’re going to do everything – continue to do everything – we can to help to put our arms around every part of British business, large and small,” Mr Johnson added.
- Listen to the full David Davis at 1100 on Saturday, on BBC Radio 4’s The Week at Westminster.