Travel quarantine to be slashed from 14 to 5 days. Is this wise?

Khanh Ngo answers the questions you may have about the quarantine reduction

Khanh Ngo
30th November 2020
From mid December, anyone arriving in England from high-risk countries can leave self-isolation after just 5 days with a negative Covid test.

Under the government’s new “Test to Release” plan, arrivals in England from a high-risk destination (without a travel corridor) after December 15 will be able to reduce their 14-day quarantine if they pay for a Covid test on the fifth day.

Fast-turnaround LAMP tests will be used, paid for privately at government approved clinics at a cost of up to £120, which provide results in as little as an hour.

With the travel industry hit hard by the pandemic since the beginning of the year, this news is widely welcomed as it is expected to boost travel demands when England comes out of lockdown on 2 December.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the industry association representing UK-registered carriers, said: “This is a hugely welcomed step that will begin the process of opening up international travel and restarting UK aviation.

“By more than halving the quarantine period we should see demand tentatively return and more routes and destinations become viable once again.”

Is cutting quarantine wise?

Currently, most countries only accept PCR test results, considered the “gold standard” of testing due to it being highly sensitive and lab-analysed. Is England doing the right thing using rapid tests to cut isolation by more than half?

Reasonably, this seems like the only way forward if the travel industry is to start recovering. 

The costs for LAMP tests are only half as much as those of PCR tests, and they are at an affordable enough rate that the public would pay for in exchange for more than a week off quarantine.

Also, the evidence for test accuracy at day five so far seems promising. The decision to initiate “Test to Release” was based in part on recent results from “the most comprehensive study yet of Covid tests on passengers”. The research, based on analysis of data from more than 105,000 passengers, found that tests on the fifth day of quarantine detected between 83 to 90 percent of Covid cases.

What next?

Earlier this month, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the government was working with other countries to set up a pre-departure testing regime that could reduce quarantine even further.

Tim Alderslade added: “A test at day 5 does not get rid of quarantine and that’s why we look forward to working with the government to move towards a pre-departure or domestic testing regime that can remove safely the need for self-isolation altogether, as quickly as possible.”

However, whether or not this becomes viable depends on the “Test to Release” plan returning positive results. If it does, this is looking to be the beginning of recovery for the travel industry.

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