Exclusive: Airport testing reduces rates of infections better than quarantine, data shows

Charles Hymas
·4-min read
Frankfurt Airport Coronavirus Swab Testing station -  Alex Kraus/Bloomberg
Frankfurt Airport Coronavirus Swab Testing station - Alex Kraus/Bloomberg
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Countries that have expanded their airport testing of arriving holidaymakers have seen their national Covid infection rates decline, according to a new analysis.

The data, covering the period from mid-August to this weekend, shows Greece, Denmark, Iceland, Germany, Cyprus and Singapore all reduced their rates after intensifying border testing to allow arrivals to avoid 14-day quarantine.

The disclosure challenges the Government’s contention that testing on arrival is ineffective and only catches seven per cent of cases - an argument deployed by both Boris Johnson and Grant Shapps on Friday.

 

LOGO: Test4Travel
LOGO: Test4Travel

But in support of The Telegraph’s Test4Travel campaign, Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, which conducted the analysis, said the data demonstrated the value of airport testing in enabling travel, while minimising the risk to public health.

Along with many in the travel and aviation industry, Mr Charles advocated a two-test model, one on or before arrival and then a second followed up after five days of quarantine, reducing the time travellers have to self-isolate by nine days.

“The seven per cent figure is spurious data which is questioned by the whole travel industry as being out of date. Secondly, it only relates to one test at the airport rather than two,” said Mr Charles.

Scientists at Collinson Group, which has set up a testing facility at Heathrow, said the Government’s seven per cent figure was based on Public Health England (PHE) and SAGE modelling rather than the plethora of real-world data now available from countries’ airport testing regimes.

The map below shows the countries with testing.

Airports Corona Testing
Airports Corona Testing

They cited Jersey, which has tested all 20,000 inbound travellers on arrival - equivalent to 20 per cent of its population - since opening its borders in July and has detected 17 Covid cases. All were quarantined. In the same period, there were only four cases of “in community” infections unrelated to the border.

“If the PHE modelling had been correct in its assumptions, Jersey should have experienced a further 185 imported cases of Covid, and many dozens more cases of onward transmission within the community. It experienced none,” said Collinson’s scientists in a paper submitted to the Government.

Iceland introduced a two-test regime for arrivals from August 19, with the second after five days of quarantine, and has since seen its Covid case rate fall from 16.5 to 11.5 per 100,000 of people.

“If the PHE modelling was correct, Iceland would have experienced over 1,000 additional cases of imported Covid, and many hundreds of cases on onward transmission. They have not. Total ‘in-community’ transmission for the period (not related to the border) was just 166 cases,” said Collinson.

Greece, which carries out more than 9,000 tests a day at its ports of entry, has seen its case rate per 100,000 fall from 14.3 to 13.7, while Denmark, which uses five-minute tests on arrivals, has dropped from 15.4 to 12.9.

Germany, which moved to the Icelandic two-test model, has gone from 10.1 to 9.0, Cyprus is down from 9.4 to 7.5 and Singapore down from 10.4 to 5.8.

Rates of Covid infection around Europe
Rates of Covid infection around Europe

The Telegraph’s Test4Travel campaign has won the backing of travel chiefs, airports and airlines, and MPs including former health and transport secretaries Jeremy Hunt and Chris Grayling.

On Saturday, the Labour Party backed calls for “robust testing” at airports to reduce the need to quarantine.

In a letter to Priti Patel, shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds called for a review to "fix chaotic quarantine arrangements that are losing public confidence and undermining our ability to keep people safe and save jobs”.

It added: "It should include outlining options for a robust testing regime in airports, and related follow up tests, that could help to safely minimise the need for 14 day quarantine.”

On Sunday IATA, which represents the world’s airlines, will join those publicly backing it. “The stop-start closing of Britain to the world is not a successful survival tactic for Covid. Jobs are being vaporized by quarantine and they may never come back,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA Director General.

“The answer is a Covid testing regime that manages the risk to keep people safe from the virus. And it will avoid apocalyptic unemployment that is sure to devastate society and the economy."

Scientists have warned cases across Europe are “almost back” to the levels seen in March when infections peaked and draconian lockdowns were introduced.

Across the continent countries have been rapidly easing lockdowns, encouraging tourism and reopening in an effort to kick-start their economies.

Spain came close to clocking half a million coronavirus cases on Friday, where the pandemic is spreading at its fastest pace in Europe. Authorities registered 4,503 new infections, bringing the total to 498,989. The new wave of contagion has been less deadly than early in the pandemic, however.

Meanwhile, Ukraine registered a record 2,836 cases of the new coronavirus in the past 24 hours, the national security council said on Saturday, up from a previous record of 2,723 new cases on Friday.