As news of a potential COVID vaccine broke, the government also announced further details of its new ‘test to release’ programme to reduce the period of self-isolation for people arriving in the UK.
Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech said they had the first effective coronavirus vaccine, which can prevent more than 90% of people from getting COVID-19, based on preliminary analysis.
The vaccine is reported to have been tested on 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concerns have been raised.
Meanwhile, speaking to the Airport Operators Association, the transport secretary said the government has been ‘making good progress on a test to release programme to launch once we’re out of lockdown’.
The new programme will consist of a single test for arrivals into the UK, ‘provided by the private sector and at the cost of the passenger’ and ‘allowing a much reduced period of self-isolation’
He said: ‘Beyond the lockdown, this should encourage many more people to book flights with confidence knowing there is an option that allows them to shorten self-isolation.
‘We will report to the Prime Minister very soon, with recommendations how we can support the recovery of international tourism and travel and increase consumer confidence.’
Mr Shapps did not say what length of self-isolation might be possible. The current self-isolation rules for people arriving in the UK from outside so-called ‘travel corridors’ is 14 days.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: ‘While the message is very welcome, and I really hope that means five days, we really need pre-departure testing to become the international standard if we are to get people flying again.’
Mr Shapps said that in addition to a new arrivals regime, Britain is ‘working with partner countries to consider self-isolation and testing options that could be performed before departure’.
He said the lateral flow tests currently being trialled in Liverpool, which give results in less than an hour, could open the way for non-quarantined air travel.
He added: ‘The primary solution to the aviation crisis is getting passengers flying safely again. Ultimately, through the development of an effective vaccine.’
On Monday, it was reported that a preliminary analysis coronavirus vaccine showed that it can prevent more than 90% of people getting COVID-19.