Boris Johnson is under pressure to bring in “smart measures” at airports after stoking fears Europe is on the verge of a second virus wave.
Experts believe “test and isolate” could be used as an alternative to the 14-day quarantine imposed on holidaymakers from Spain.
The Prime Minister said: “Let’s be clear about what’s happening in Europe, I’m afraid you are starting to see in some places the signs of a second wave.”
Ministers are anxious to avoid a repeat of the February half-term, when hundreds of British tourists carried Covid-19 back from Italy.
They are understood to be considering options to prevent it being brought in from countries with higher infection rates.
But the PM hinted the Government was considering reducing the quarantine period to 10 days if people agreed to be tested.
He said: “We’re always looking at ways we can mitigate the impact of the quarantine to make sure that the science is working to help travellers and holidaymakers.”
Whitehall sources claimed the proposal is “on the table” but added: “These things sound like good ideas but you need to know if they’ll work.”
Experts suggest trialling a scheme in which passengers book a test at the airport on arrival by a trained nurse, with results within 24 hours.
If negative, they could be freed from quarantine.
But those only just infected might not be detected, so people could be asked to isolate for a second test days later.
Prof Rowland Kao, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We have to be prepared to introduce quarantine or close borders, and be prepared for restrictions should UK cases start rising again.
“As an alternative, Government could fund a pilot where individuals are tested at the airport and monitored thereafter. The latter would seem to be a worthwhile investment.”
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Oliver Dowden said of testing at airports: “The challenge we have here is that it’s not the case you can simply test somebody and be sure that they don’t have the disease.”
He told BBC Breakfast: “It can incubate over a period of time, so there’s not a silver bullet of just testing immediately at the border.”
Some countries, such as Iceland, offer people a choice of self-isolating 14 days or a test if they have visited high-risk countries. Germany is planning compulsory tests at airports.
Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “It is vital the Government starts showing the grip, clarity and competence that has been lacking on this issue.
“This involves setting out how they can implement a smarter system, rather than only the blunt tool of 14-day quarantine.”
The PM’s warning of a second wave in Europe came after Spain was axed from our travel list at the weekend and threw millions more holidays into doubt.
He insisted the Government had to continue taking “swift and decisive action” if other destinations experience spikes.
France had 5,560 new cases last week, up 49% on the week before, and Germany had 3,340, up 25%. The UK, where the infection rate was down 7% week-on-week, has recorded a further 119 Covid deaths, taking the official death toll to 45,878. Meanwhile, Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez has slammed the ban, pointing out the rise is focused in two regions, Catalonia and Aragon.
He said: “In most of Spain, the incidence is very much inferior to even the numbers registered in the United Kingdom.”
And while travel to Spain was blocked due to regional spikes, new restrictions were imposed in Oldham, Greater Manchester, after a 250% surge in cases.
Residents were told to keep visitors away from their homes and maintain strict distancing outdoors.