HOLIDAYS moved one step closer to normal this week as the Government finalised its long-awaited plan to slash the two-week quarantine rule in half.
Under the new “test to release” scheme, travellers arriving in England will be allowed to take a private Covid test on day five, receiving the all clear as soon as day six.
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It is great news for holidaymakers and a much-needed boost for the travel industry.
The announcement on Tuesday caused a spike in searches for flights, with Skyscanner reporting a 40 per cent increase compared to last week.
In our Q&A lockdown guide, Jacob Lewis explains how the new system works.
When does it start?
The new lockdown rules, which Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced this week for passengers arriving in England, won’t come into effect until December 15.
How do I book a test?
In the coming days you will be able to visit gov.uk for a list of government-approved test providers.
Travellers should book a test before their return as they will need to provide information about their test booking when filling out the mandatory passenger locator form. Those who book a test after arrival will need to resubmit the passenger locator form.
How much do the tests cost?
Until the Government releases its list of approved suppliers, we won’t know for sure. But they are likely cost around £65 to £120.
Some airlines may help subsidise the cost of tests.
Wizz Air has already announced a deal with Confirm Testing, in which passengers can get an exclusive £25 discount on a PCR swab test and certificate, available from £85.
How long do the results take?
Tests take at least 24 hours to deliver a result, meaning the earliest you will be able to leave quarantine is day six. Plan to be in lockdown for a full week.
What about the rest of the UK?
The new scheme only applies to England. Holidaymakers returning to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland will still have to self- isolate when they get home for the full two weeks.
Garry Wilson, easyJet Holidays’ CEO, has called for more clarity for holidaymakers, saying: “While this is a step forward in England, we need testing schemes in place to support customers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
Safe and secure
FROM December 2, English holidaymakers can visit any country that will let them in, all without sacrificing a fortnight of freedom in return. But just how comfortable would you feel flying long-haul during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Taking advantage of the new rules, Jacob Lewis flew with Virgin Atlantic to the US this week (his wife’s US citizenship meant they let him in) to test its Covid-secure service.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT: Our first challenge was to make it to Heathrow while avoiding the crowded Tube or forking out on the Heathrow Express or a taxi.
Luckily, Heathrow has a “secret” train service that runs direct from London Waterloo, and it is almost empty. The 26-minute journey to Feltham is a little-known route to the UK’s biggest airport.
From Feltham station it’s a 21-minute bus ride to Terminal 1, 2 and 3.
CHECK IN: There are touch-free hand sanitiser stations everywhere in the terminal.
The check-in was smooth, although social distancing in the bag-drop queue proved all but impossible.
SECURITY: Keeping my distance from the man waving a metal detector up my leg was never going to be easy but there was no queue at security and we were gate-side in record time.
DUTY FREE: With hundreds of empty seats to spread out on, Terminal 2 felt smaller without the crowds. Only shops selling essentials are open.
BOARDING: The Virgin team did a great job of keeping passengers spaced out.
We were asked to scan our own boarding pass and hold up our passport for inspection to minimise contact.
ON BOARD: Having retired its 747 planes, you are likely to find yourself on one of Virgin’s modern Dreamliners or A350.
All cabins are scrubbed with hospital-grade cleaning products before boarding and are then fogged with high-grade disinfectant.
Air is filtered through High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that remove dust, allergens, bacteria, viruses and other particles at an efficiency of 99.999 per cent, with vertical air flow refreshing the cabin air every two to three minutes.
On every seat was a health and safety kit, including face masks, hand sanitising gel, surface wipes and a disposable bag for items after use.
The food service in Economy and Premium now comes in a box for extra safety but the bar still includes free alcoholic drinks and snacks.
DISEMBARKING: Passengers gave each other plenty of space while disembarking.
My biggest worry about a long-haul travel day was that the face mask would drive me mad. In fact, I became so accustomed to it that I kept it on outside the airport – the perfect protection against Boston’s cold winter air.
Bring on the next flight!
Which destinations without travel corridors will benefit from the new test and release quarantine system?
The latest rules make holidaying to countries that are not on the Government’s travel corridor list a lot more appealing, because you will only have to lockdown for a week on your return.
Countries such as Mexico and Turkey are open to UK tourists, and you do not even need to provide a negative test result before departure.
Countries that are open to UK tourists, but where you will need to present a negative test taken within 72 hours before arrival, include popular hotspots such as Spain and South Africa.
What does the travel industry say?
After campaigning for a change to the rules, the new system has been welcomed as a step in the right direction.
However, airlines, airports and tourism bodies have all called for an end to any form of lockdown in favour of internationally recognised tests on departure.
Gloria Guevara, World Travel & Tourism Council president and CEO, said: “A single internationally recognised, cost- effective test for all departing air passengers should be used to remove crippling quarantines and begin the gradual process to revive international travel, save the sector and bring back millions of jobs around the globe.”
There are concerns the price of tests will put passengers off short-haul holidays.
London Southend Airport CEO Glyn Jones said: “The price for the proposed arrivals tests, at between £65 and £120, is higher than many European flights. It is simply not viable for many hard-working families.”
While locking down for a week might be possible for holiday-makers, it is not ideal for business trips.
As business-class passengers effectively subsidise economy seats on most long-haul routes, that’s not good for holidaymakers’ tickets.
Virgin Atlantic’s Shai Weiss called it a “vital fist step”, adding: “A five- day quarantine is likely to prove a significant deterrent for travellers, especially those on business.
“The only way to fully reopen vital trading and travel links, support the UK’s economic recovery and protect more than 500,000 jobs supported by aviation, is to move to a robust pre-departure testing regime to safely replace quarantine as soon as possible.”
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