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Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden says there is no ‘silver bullet’ on quarantine as Heathrow boss demands testing at the border

The Culture Secretary appeared on BBC Breakfast.

3 min read

Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden has said there is no “silver bullet” to ease coronavirus travel quarantine measures as the boss of Heathrow airport demanded testing at the border.

The Culture Secretary told BBC Breakfast he acknowledged the “frustration” felt by the holidaymakers over fresh restrictions on those returning from Spain.

But he said the Government would only proceed with changes to the 14-day rule “if it's safe to do so”.

The Government moved to impose a two-week quarantine on anyone returning from Spain this weekend amid a spike in cases there, throwing holiday plans into disarray for Brits who had ventured out of the country.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye has said his airport could have a scheme “up and running” in two weeks to allow people currently in Spain to be tested for Covid-19 when they return to the UK.

Under the plan, outlined in The Telegraph and already used in France and Germany, passengers would would be tested on arrival. 

While passengers would still be expected to quarantine, a second negative test carried out five or eight days later would allow them to come out of self-isolation more rapidly, a move the Heathrow boss believes would lessen the disruption to travel.

The proposal is said to have the support of Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.

But Mr Dowden told the BBC on Wednesday morning: “In relation to testing at airports, the challenge we have here is that it's not the case that you can simply test somebody, and be sure that they don't have the disease.

“It can incubate over a period of time, so there's not a silver bullet of just testing immediately at the border. 

“Of course, we are looking at and reviewing other measures that we could take to address this.

“But at this stage, it's not the case that we can simply test at the border and give people that assurance.”

Asked whether the Government would look at a pilot scheme with follow-up monitoring on top of testing at the border, Mr Dowden said: “Of course we'll keep all these things under review and I really genuinely appreciate how deeply frustrating it is for families who were looking forward to going on holiday to Spain this summer after the dreadful year that we've had so far.”

But he added: “We've had to take these quarantine measures in order to ensure that we keep the disease under control in this country and we don't import cases from Spain.

“The safest thing to do right now is for people to quarantine for 14 days, because we can't rely on that test straightaway.

“Of course, we'll look at other measures in order to mitigate the impact of this, to reduce the burden on people we don't want to be in a position where people have to isolate for 14 days but we'll only do that if it's safe to do so.”

Ministers have so far rejected airport testing amid concern that people who arrive in the UK could develop Covid-19 some time after initial checks at the border.

But Boris Johnson said on Tuesday: "We are always looking at ways in which we can mitigate the impact of the quarantine, try to help people, try to make sure that the science is working to help travellers and holidaymakers."

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