Coronavirus: Business groups pile pressure on Shapps over airport testing

28 September 2020, 17:15 | Updated: 28 September 2020, 18:32

The government is facing renewed pressure from some of Britain’s biggest most influential business groups to introduce an immediate coronavirus airport testing regime or risk losing “the vision of a Global Britain”.

Sky News has seen a letter sent to the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, by organisations including the CBI in which they lay bare the scale of their concerns about the current 14-day COVID-19 quarantine regime.

The groups, which include the manufacturing industries' body Make UK and London First, urged Mr Shapps to emulate countries such as France, Germany and Italy, which they said had all "successfully implemented" airport testing programmes.

"If we don't act fast with testing, we will make it more difficult for British businesses to continue as world class global players, just at the time where we need to forge stronger international relationships as the UK leaves the EU," the letter said.

"While health must come first, we cannot allow the UK to fall behind when there is a solution already in place in over 30 countries that enables the health risk to be managed whilst enabling travel.

"We must ensure that important trade routes are not irreparably damaged, and the vision of a Global Britain lost, with European economies capitalising on the Government's quarantine policy which risks holding back the UK's recovery."

The letter was sent three weeks after Mr Shapps indicated that airport testing was being examined by the government, while emphasising that its introduction would not eliminate the need for - an albeit truncated - quarantine period.

In their joint plea to the transport secretary, the business groups demanded that the government "do more - introducing testing and expanding regional travel corridors to include regions where the infection rate of COVID-19 is low and trading routes are vital, particularly working with the USA administration on a reciprocal testing model".

"We were pleased to hear you state that the Government was 'actively working' on testing but we urge you and your Cabinet colleagues to put these words in to action".

"Some airports across the UK already have the private infrastructure in place - or in plan - to make this happen without impacting test availability for the wider population."

Britain's aviation industry has been catapulted into the gravest crisis in its history by the coronavirus pandemic, with tens of thousands of jobs already axed by airport operators, airlines and support services groups, such as those which manage ground-handling operations.

Heathrow, Britain's biggest airport, has pushed for the introduction of a testing regime for incoming passengers, with a consortium comprising Collinson and Swissport devising a system that the companies say has been ready for adoption for many weeks.

John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow's boss has described testing as "the lifeline that the UK's aviation sector needs to get back on its feet".

"Without this, our first class aviation sector risks becoming second class, giving Britain's competitive advantage to others," he said this month.

Airlines and airports have been calling since the start of the pandemic for a bespoke rescue package for the industry, but have so far failed to secure financial support beyond that given to the broader economy.

The letter from six business groups to Mr Shapps underlines the wider concerns in the private sector about the impact that diminished aviation activity is having on the UK economy.

Its other signatories were the British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Tourism Alliance.