Boris Johnson is considering plans to dramatically slash quarantine restrictions for passengers arriving in the UK amid warnings of the huge damage they are doing to the economy.
It comes after MPs and business chiefs told the Prime Minister that the current 14-day self-isolation rules are pushing travel companies and airlines to the brink, crippling trade and tourism, and jeopardising the recovery.
The Mail on Sunday understands that officials are now looking at the option of testing people for coronavirus eight days after they arrive at UK airports and ports – although Government sources stressed no decision has yet been taken.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, pictured earlier this week on a visit to HS2 in Solihull is considering changing the UK's quarantine rules after ruling out such a possibility earlier this week
Mr Johnson is under pressure from his own back bench MPs to perform another policy U-turn
Airlines such as British Airways have complained about the impact the rules they are having on their businesses
We can also reveal that Mr Johnson has told Tory MPs of his hopes for a breakthrough ‘infectiousness test’, which could reveal the patients who test positive for the virus but cannot transmit it to others.
Such a test would transform the drive to get as many people as possible back to work.
The news comes as it was revealed:A cross-party coalition of grandees – including Tony Blair, David Davis and former transport secretaries – demanded a rethink on the controversial 14-day quarantine policy, with Mr Blair claiming that ‘the current travel nightmare’ was doing ‘untold harm’; Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports, which runs Southampton, Aberdeen and Glasgow, warned the sector’s Covid-related job losses would be worse than the coal mining jobs bloodbath three decades ago; Ministers have ignored for months the key finding of an official Sage report showing testing of passengers upon arrival and then five days later detects 85 per cent of those infected.
Writing in The Mail on Sunday, former Tory Brexit Secretary Mr Davis issued a warning that the current approach ‘risked self-strangulation of our economy’ while Mr Blair claimed the ‘current travel nightmare’ was doing ‘untold harm’.
Insisting mass tests at British airports was part of the answer, the former Labour Prime Minister said: ‘The insistence on the current quarantine measures is doing huge harm to the British economy – quite unnecessarily so.’
Sir Patrick McLoughlin, who served as David Cameron’s transport chief, also claimed that it was ‘vital’ to move as soon as possible to more testing at airports, but added he was sure the Government had ‘good reasons’ for the current policy.
Rolls-Royce, who manufacture airline engines such as this Rolls-Royce Trent 900 turbofan, is cutting 3,000 jobs
Former Labour Transport Secretary Lord Adonis said a switch to a ‘much more limited quarantine’ and better testing at airports was essential to stop ‘this massive, blanket disruption’.
But he claimed the only reason fortnight-long quarantine periods had been introduced was ‘because the Government has been so incompetent at getting testing regimes established’.
In the past few months, tens of thousands of redundancies have been announced in the travel industry as many companies have seen profits wiped out by the collapse of air travel.
The pain is also being felt by manufacturing firms, which have stopped making parts for planes, baggage-handling firms whose staff are not needed in terminals and travel agents who are not selling holiday packages.
Rolls-Royce, which makes engines for planes, is cutting 3,000 jobs, while tour operator Tui has warned 8,000 globally could face the axe and airport services firm Swissport has announced 4,500 redundancies – half its UK workforce.
Last week, the Prime Minister surprised Tory backbench MPs at a meeting of the influential 1922 Committee by evoking the possibility of a so-called ‘infectiousness test’ – something the Government believes may be key to a return to some sort of normality.
Passengers arriving after 4pm yesterday from Croatia, Austria and Trinidad and Tobago were told they must enter quarantine for 14 days
One of the MPs present said: ‘The PM seemed to be saying that what matters isn’t whether you have Covid but whether you’re in danger of spreading it.’
Another MP at the meeting added: ‘We were led to believe fast testing is coming down the line.’ Steve Baker, the Tory MP who sits on the Commons Treasury select committee, said: ‘From what Boris said at the 1922, I’m praying that he’s got an ace up his sleeve on testing.
‘I cannot help thinking that if we had let profit-making labs do their own thing, we may have solved this problem.’
Mr Baker also called for ‘bold action’ to open up airports, adding: ‘I am furiously frustrated on behalf of my many constituents who work for airlines and airports.
‘Every day of dither and delay and bad advice worsens their prospects.’ The Department of Health confirmed it was looking at an infectiousness test but admitted it was not ‘clear if such a test will be able to do this or effectively enough’.
It came as researchers this weekend raised fears that test figures may have been over-estimating the number of new cases, warning that the main Covid test could be picking up fragments of dead virus from old infection.
Most people are infectious only for about a week, but could test positive weeks afterwards.TONY BLAIR: We must use EVERY innovation to end 'travel roulette' if we want to prevent doing huge and long-lasting damage to UK plc
One thing I have learnt from my time in office is that it is much easier to give advice than to do the job – so I have every sympathy for those in Government charged with making big decisions regarding how we combat this virus.
But failing to make the right decisions will do immense and long-lasting damage to our economy. Since March, I have consistently argued that we must conduct mass testing of the British population to help control the spread of coronavirus, while minimising the economic damage of restricting movement. And it is key that we extend those mass tests to British airports as an alternative to the current requirement that all travellers from many of the most popular travel destinations in the world undergo a long 14-day quarantine.
Combined with tests, this period of isolation should be reduced to a more manageable five days, with