Europe

Holidays: Covid study finds lateral flow test as effective as 10 day quarantine

Boris Johnson discusses vaccine passports for overseas travel

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Britain is slowly emerging from the coronavirus lockdown, and many of us are eager to get some holidays booked into our diaries. Speaking on Easter Monday, the Prime Minister promised to set out “well before May 17 what is reasonable” with regards to international travel and aim to give the aviation industry “as much notice as possible”. When holidays are allowed, a “traffic light” system will be enforced in England.

Destination countries will be put into three categories with different rules for coming back into the UK.

Arrivals from GREEN countries won’t require isolation, but testing will be required.

Arrivals from AMBER countries are expected to require a 10-day isolation at home, and testing.

Arrivals from RED countries will have to pay to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days, as well as testing. Non-British nationals/residents cannot enter at all.

However, research commissioned by airlines British Airways-owner IAG, Virgin Atlantic and others found that a single on-arrival rapid antigen test is as effective as a ten-day self-isolation period in reducing imported cases of COVID-19.

Rapid antigen tests, also called lateral flow tests, provide results in about half an hour.

They are most sensitive at recognising high viral loads, so their use for mass testing has previously been questioned.

But this recent study has shown the tests can be just as effective as quarantine to stop imported cases of the virus.

Modelling conducted in the study shows that antigen tests can reduce the number of infectious days of an international arrival by 63 percent.

In comparison, the UK’s previous border policy for countries without travel corridors – which comprised of a ten-day quarantine period with no testing – screens 62 percent of infectious days.

These findings suggest the effectiveness of a single antigen test has been underestimated, with SAGE previously reporting that it would screen only 11 percent of infectious travellers.

The research, published by consulting firm authors Oxera and Edge Health on Thursday, has been submitted to Britain’s Global Travel Taskforce.

The taskforce is reviewing how and when travel should restart and will report on April 12.

Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive Shai Weiss said: “We believe that international travel can safely restart at scale, using a risk-based, phased easing of testing requirements and border restrictions, that follows the scientific evidence.”

For higher-risk countries, a two-test strategy could be a viable option to quarantine, the report said.

Last year, Britain’s 10-day quarantine rules for arrivals from most countries hammered the travel industry, deterring people from taking trips.

After a year of restrictions and minimal revenues, airlines are desperate for travel to restart as safely as possible.

Other options being considered for reopening travel include vaccine passports.

However, this raises the problem of excluding groups yet to be offered the vaccine, such as younger people.

Sam Willan, General Manager at StudentUniverse UK, a student and youth travel site, said the system risks being “unfair” to young travellers.

He told Express.co.uk the rapid antigen tests should be “considered a viable option for students who are yet to be vaccinated, but wish to travel safely”.

Mr Wallan said: “It would be unfair to make young people wait longer than older demographics to be able to travel – especially as so many young people are travelling for important study abroad programmes and educational experiences, not just holidays.”

“The government needs to provide clarity as soon as possible,” he added

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