Travel tests have virtually no effect in preventing the spread of Covid variants from abroad unless restrictions are introduced within a day of the strain first being imported to the UK, according to a scientific analysis.
The research found any travel restrictions could only delay the peak of a new variant by between two and eight days – but this would only be effective if they were imposed as the variant was first brought in.
Each additional day of delay after that reduced the impact to the point that, by day six, it only held back the peak by a day, according to the modelling by Edge Health and Oxera, a specialist research consultancy that works with the NHS.
It took 16 days for the UK to detect and react to the omicron variant after it had already arrived, suggesting any tests would only be introduced long after they could have any effect in delaying the peak of the virus.
Aviation ‘must resume its road to recovery’
The research, funded by Airlines UK and Manchester Airports Group (MAG), has been presented to the Government to support plans by ministers to ditch day two lateral flow tests.
Charlie Cornish, the MAG chief executive, said: "The findings show conclusively that testing for international travel will not deliver significant benefits in managing the spread of new variants.
"As we learn to live with Covid-19, it is important that people are allowed to travel free of the additional cost and uncertainty which testing creates. This study provides ministers with the clear evidence that this is achievable.
"The UK Government has taken the step to remove domestic restrictions, and it should now apply this approach to international travel. We must allow the country's worst hit sector to resume its road to recovery, and for the UK economy to benefit from the billions of pounds of economic value aviation generates."
The Government has already ditched pre-departure and day two PCR tests for vaccinated travellers, leaving families facing just day two lateral flow tests – which add £120 to the cost of a holiday for a family of four.
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, backs dropping the tests and it is thought that Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, is also on board. A decision is expected when travel restrictions are reviewed by ministers next week.