Airlines UK and Conservative Home hosted a webinar with transport secretary Grant Shapps, airline leaders and testing experts. Ben Ireland reports

‘We need a robust and safe regime for travel’

The transport secretary has warned the public “will not thank” the travel sector if a restart of international travel halts domestic easing of Covid restrictions. International travel is expected

to restart from May 17, but the destinations on the green, amber and red lists are yet to be confirmed. The industry has called for information on which countries are likely to be included as soon as possible. Shapps reiterated the lists would

be shared in “early May”. Speaking on a webinar hosted by Airlines UK and Conservative Home, he said: “I know there’s tremendous frustration in the aviation sectors, and the tourism sectors, about the restrictions that we continue to have to impose – and I share those frustrations 100%. “But only by creating a very robust

regime, a safe regime, for international travel – can we keep the nation healthy. People will not thank us if it’s through aviation and travel that we

‘US travel ban needs to be lifted to open corridor’

Opening up a travel corridor between the UK and the US is “not a question of if, but when”, according to a representative of American carriers. Keith Glatz, vice-president, international, at Airlines for Grant Shapps

back to health.” He stressed: “We have to do it safely and we have to do it once and for all.” Shapps said that while the vaccine

rollout “brings an opportunity, including the things we love, like international travel”, it “risks losing those hard-won gains, particularly if we have variants which are a problem. “Whatever we do we have to

make sure we don’t bring dangerous variants back into our country.” Speaking on the webinar, British

Airways chief executive Sean Doyle reiterated calls for a simpler and cheaper way of restarting international travel. He noted: “We have to plan over a

somehow end up going backwards from all of the sacrifices people have been through, including staying at home for the best part of a year. “So we have to be absolutely

certain we’ve nailed it this time. That way I think we will begin to bring the airline and international travel sectors

America, told an Airlines UK session: “The rest of the world is open to the US already. That’s why it’s not a question of if, but a question of when.” Speaking before the UK was

added to the US Do Not Travel list, and before EU president Ursula

Von der Leyen told The New York Times the EU would welcome US travellers who had been vaccinated when restrictions are lifted, Glatz pointed out that – to reciprocate – the US had to repeal ex-president

Trump’s 212F executive order. He noted “broad recognition”

among his US government sources that it needs to be repealed, adding:

time horizon that isn’t just next week. If I want to rebuild our networks over the summer, and get people back working at British Airways, we need to be able to look three or four months down the line. “The public mood will change and change pretty quickly.”

Keith Glatz

Shapps will assess need for PCR tests

The transport secretary will continue to assess whether lateral flow tests can be used in place of PCR tests to allow international travel – but insists the latter will be in place for now. Grant Shapps reiterated he

wants to “drive down” the price of Covid testing for international travel and said one approved firm was in the process of making PCR tests available for £45 – with the lowest approved provider offering tests at £58. Confirming PCR tests will

remain for now, Shapps said he is still “looking at” switching to lateral flow testing as a means for opening up international travel. Edge Health director George

Batchelor said PCR tests are still considered the “gold standard”, but said lateral flow testing has “moved on in the last year”, and is now “as effective as PCR”. It is not expected a decision

will be made before the first taskforce review date on June 28.

“We need that to happen as soon as possible.” Transport secretary Grant

Shapps confirmed “regular” talks with his opposite number in the US, Pete Buttigieg. Shapps explained: “Trump

passed an executive order, 212F, that bans Brits, Europeans and [those from] many other countries from travelling to the States – and that has been there since March last year. That is the thing that needs to lift to be able to open these corridors.”

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PICTURE: Richard Townshend

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