Ministers play down prospect of coronavirus testing at airports

Ministers play down prospect of coronavirus testing at airports saying it would miss too many cases – amid fears Portugal could go back on quarantine list causing more chaos for holidaying Britons

  • George Eustice suggested routine testing at airports would miss too many cases
  • Fears fuelled after passengers on plane from Zante last week told to self-isolate 
  • Speculation that Portugal could be reinstated on to the UK’s quarantine list 

Ministers today played down the prospect of routine coronavirus testing at airports – suggesting it would miss too many cases to be effective.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said border controls were always kept under review, but warned that screening on arrival would not remove the risk of the disease being imported into the country.

The comments came amid fears that Portugal might be placed on the quarantine list again, after a spike in cases took it perilously close to the government’s threshold.  

In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Eustice was asked whether it was time for the government to heed calls for widespread testing at airports as part of the UK’s response to the pandemic. 

‘Obviously all of these things are always kept under review,’ he told Sky News.

‘The advice so far on testing on arrival at airports is that the likelihood of missing people who are maybe asymptomatic and therefore won’t show up on the test is quite high.

‘Somebody can pass negative to a test and therefore think they are okay and find a few days later they develop symptoms.’

There are fears that Portugal might be placed on the UK’s quarantine list again, after a spike in cases took it perilously close to the government’s threshold. Pictured, Costa da Caparica beach in Almada

In a round of interviews this morning, Environment Secretary George Eustice was asked whether widespread testing at airports should be part of the UK’s response to the pandemic

The remarks followed concern that almost 200 passengers who were on a flight from the Greek island of Zante a week ago have now been told to self-isolate. 

There are 16 cases of Covid-19 linked to people who took Tui flight 6215 to Cardiff on August 25.

Paul Charles, boss of travel consultancy PC Agency, said the figures for Portugal suggest it could be taken off the Foreign Office travel corridor list in days. 

He added: ‘Portugal is likely to go back on the UK’s quarantine list this week and the country itself is now preparing a ‘state of contingency’ from September 15.

‘It has been unable to manage its caseload over the last two weeks as more tourists have entered Portugal, especially Lisbon and Porto.’

PC Agency, which publishes a daily tally of country infection rates, listed Portugal as an ‘amber’ nation, meaning it is approaching the UK threshold for quarantine with 19.4 virus cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day cumulative count – compared with 12.2 in Britain. 

Around 75,000 UK nationals are thought to be on holiday in Portugal or due to fly there imminently. 

Many could face having to fly home early to beat a deadline before any quarantine restriction is imposed. 

A clamp on travellers from Portugal would represent a further embarrassment for a Government which has been lambasted for its ‘shambolic’ marshalling of the travel sector during the pandemic.

In late June, ministers began encouraging Britons to holiday abroad to boost the travel industry as restrictions were eased, only to warn within weeks that ‘no travel is risk-free.’ 

That followed a decision to introduce quarantine measures on arrivals from Spain with just five hours’ notice.

Mr Charles suggested yesterday that Portugal had been a ‘victim of its own success in attracting so many tourists rapidly’. 

When Portugal was added to the travel corridor list on August 22 – meaning no need for holidaymakers to quarantine for 14 days upon their return to the UK – flight comparison site Skyscanner reported a 2,000 per cent increase in bookings.

Portugal is listed as an ‘amber’ nation, meaning it is approaching the UK threshold for quarantine with 19.4 virus cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day cumulative count

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