Speaking at the UK Aviation Club, IATA Director General Willie Walsh emphasised the value of face-to-face meetings and the desire of travellers to get flying again. But he warned that by restricting travel and persisting with expensive PCR testing, the UK had failed to capitalise on its early start in Covid-19 vaccinations, and slipped behind its principal European Union partners.
“In terms of day-to-day life, the UK is far more pragmatic in managing Covid-19 than many other states,” said Walsh. “But its approach to travel continues to focus on restrictions which cannot be justified based on risk. Over the period from February to August, the PCR test positivity rate of arriving passengers to the UK was one per cent. And the positivity rate from testing the general population was seven per cent. So, we can confidently say that travel is not increasing the UK’s Covid-19 risk.”
Prices remain high for Covid tests
While welcoming recent moves to cut the number of ‘red list’ countries and finally proposing an end to PCR tests for vaccinated passengers, Walsh warned that problems remain, principally with the new post-arrival antigen test. The UK is relying on a closed shop of private testing providers, the effectiveness of which the Competition and Markets Authority has described as ‘a lottery’. And prices remain high compared to convenient high-street options elsewhere in the world.
Covid-19 document checks have also been identified as a barrier to travel. The UK must lead with automated digital solutions to take the burden off airlines. “Manual paper checks by airlines are unsustainable as volumes come back. We need to automate the process…airlines are not your border guards,” said Walsh.