Boris Johnson has been warned by the bosses of the UK’s 20 biggest airports he risks “irreparable damage” to the economy unless he moves to replace quarantine with Covid-19 testing in the next week.
In a letter to the Prime Minister and Chancellor, the signatories, including bosses at Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham and Luton, give Mr Johnson seven days to give the go ahead to testing as one of a series of measures to prevent the loss of up to 110,000 aviation and allied industry jobs.
Ministers are also considering following Wales by sanctioning regional “travel corridors” where visitors to “low risk” islands like Madeira and the Azores would be exempt from quarantine despite travel bans on the mainland.
A decision could come as early as Monday, say industry sources.
It comes as England on Sunday saw its biggest daily toll of coronavirus infections since May, as 2,988 new cases were announced, prompting Health Secretary Matt Hancock to appeal to young people not to “infect their grandparents”.
Their appeal came as an influential committee of MPs urged Mr Johnson to move quicker to save Britain's stricken aviation sector. Huw Merriman, chair of the transport committee, said his failure to endorse airport testing was adding "further barriers to travel”.
On Sunday, Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, maintained the Government line that Covid-19 tests on arrival alone were not a “silver bullet” but confirmed ministers were considering shortening 14-day quarantine by introducing two tests, one on arrival and a second after five or eight days.
It comes ahead of a crucial Commons debate on Thursday when scores of Tory MPs will urge the Government to back airport testing to enable travellers to sidestep quarantine, introduce regional travel corridors and target more support to the aviation sector.
In their letter to Mr Johnson, the airport chief executives warned they have already lost £4 billion and are unlikely to see a return to pre-Covid levels of travel for another four years.
“We cannot currently envisage an end to this struggle, and without robust Government support there is real possibility of irreparable damage being done to our once world beating aviation sector,” they wrote.
The 20 (led by the Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, Tory chair of the Airport Operators’ Association (AOA)) said testing and regional travel corridors were critical to opening up travel and set the Prime Minister a deadline of seven days.
Writing on The Telegraph, Andrew Flintham, managing director of TUI, the UK’s biggest travel operator, also warns Britain’s failure to introduce testing meant it was lagging behind more than 30 other nations including Germany and France which had already introduced them to free up travel.
He says: “This Government wants to get people back to work – but what happens when there’s no work for people to come back to.”
In a statement backing The Telegraph’s Test4Travel campaign, Gloria Guevara, chief executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), which advises the G20, said Britain’s failure to do airport testing of arrivals left it “isolated” internationally.
In its response to the transport committee on Sunday, the Government promised an aviation strategy in the autumn, including reforming how airlines are allocated slots and consulting on aviation tax changes such as air passenger duty.