It’s no secret that the UK government’s quarantine measures have not at all been met with excitement and positivity by the aviation sector. Heathrow have opposed it, MPs have opposed it and Ryanair, British Airways and easyJet quite publicly hit the headlines last week in starting a legal challenge against it.
It is quite evident that the main players in the tourism industry feel it will have a tsunami-like effect across the UK, taking jobs and the economy with it. The government may be about to listen, with the Chancellor Rishi Sunak claiming they may consider changes to the rules which force any international entrants to the UK to self-isolate for 14 days or risk fines.
But what could a more flexible approach look like? Countries across the world have taken their own approaches in weighing up the risks. Australia, since closing its borders mid-March, has imposed a compulsory two week hotel quarantine on any returning nationals (which whilst facing backlash for being too ‘inhumane’ has seemingly had a beneficial effect on the country). Other countries have imposed a similar two week quarantine to the UK rules, but, crucially, implemented them earlier on and now are in a position to allow lower risk countries exemption.
The country with the approach that interests me the most is the Philippines. The South-East Asian nation require disembarked passengers to take a coronavirus test and then wait it out in hotel isolation for between 24-48 hours for a negative result to come back. This method still could leave the potential for travellers to require a 14-day period of isolation if that negative result never arrives, but it could also help to drastically decrease the effect a strictly imposed quarantine may have on the air travel industry.
The Filipino method would definitely not be a perfect option for the UK – as it is estimated by the John Hopkins University that 1 in 5 positive patients come back with a false negative result. This leaves the risk that infected citizens would be thrown back into society. But where do we draw the line? What risks are we willing to take? With correct social distancing measures in place and the upscale in hygiene measures (including mandating face coverings) the risk can become negligible.
I would argue that to limit the impact on the aviation sector the UK could be testing all passengers on arrival. Capacity is already at more than 200,000 tests daily – the cost of extra testing capacity would, in my view, likely be nothing compared to the damage the current quarantine measures could cause to the sector both now and in the long term. If positive passengers are then made aware of their Covid-19 status within the two day period, they can then have the full 14-days imposed upon them. With adequate social distancing measures in place alongside the NHS test and trace system, it seems unnecessary to just put an extra barrier in the way of already struggling airlines. Time will tell if the government change their tune.
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