Heathrow calls for coronavirus travel bans to be limited

UK's transport secretary says the 'ridiculously complicated' passenger locator form will be updated

Heathrow Airport executives want a change in the way future pandemic developments are handled. AFP

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Heathrow Airport's chief executive has urged the government to avoid bans on travel to entire regions when the next Covid variant appears.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed the “ridiculously complicated” passenger locator form will be updated to a simpler form as the restrictions are lifted in February. but has not spoken about plans for any future waves of the pandemic.

The travel sector has been left reeling by repeated lockdowns which forced people to stay at home and made flying more expensive with compulsory testing.

As the Omicron variant was first spotted in late 2021 in southern Africa, the UK put large tracts of the region on no-fly lists, adding quarantine and testing costs to anyone wanting to travel.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye welcomed the Government's decision to ease coronavirus regulations for people arriving in England but said more needed to be done for next time.

“Millions of jobs depend upon aviation in different forms, including those people who are manufacturing goods that need to be exported around the world,” he said.

“Many of them travel on passenger planes out of Heathrow.

“It's important to get the balance right. Where we are in the pandemic, with the benefit of vaccinations, many people having been jabbed three times now, it's the right time to start opening up the economy and learning to live with Covid.

“Now of course if there is another variant of concern, measures will be brought in. We hope those will be targeted just on countries which have the variants of concern, rather than the blanket ban that we saw a couple of months ago.

“But this is a really good step forward and we should celebrate it, and I think the government has made the right step in taking an international lead in reopening international travel.”

Mr Shapps announced the easing of travel restrictions, and on Tuesday he said there would be “no quarantine, no testing, no cost” for travellers.

“When you go abroad there are no more tests to take. You don’t need to take a test before you leave where you are coming from, you don’t need to take a day 2 test,” Mr Shapps said.

“You just come home and the only thing you are going to do is fill in a passenger locator form which we are going to simplify. It was ridiculously complicated to work your way through. And that’s it. No quarantine, no testing, no cost.”

Successive waves of the virus have hit countries at different speeds and nations have had different abilities in buying vaccines, meaning they are all in a different place in tackling the virus.

While England hopes it will no longer need new lockdowns, Germany believes it still has at least two weeks before peak infection rate from the Omicron variant.

Mr Holland-Kaye said the requirement for international travellers to fill out coronavirus forms “is going to be with us for some time".

“We're told by the Government that they are simplifying those, and within the next month or so we should see those becoming a little easier to fill out,” he said.

“We need to get back to where travel used to be, where you don't have to fill out all these forms or have tests at both ends of the route.

“Now I think in reality, because Covid is going to be with us for some time, we're going to have to live with these, if not for coming into the UK then certainly for going into other countries. It's just going to be part of international travel.

“But if that's the price we have to pay to be able to see our loved ones or to go about doing our business, then I think it's a price worth paying and at least we don't have the very expensive tests that the Government had been requiring until quite recently.”

Updated: January 25, 2022, 1:00 PM
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