Testing Times – Negative is the New Positive

Testing Times – Negative is the New Positive

This is a sponsored guest post from ABTA

By Amy Skelding, Senior Partner, Finn Partners Travel Europe

In these strange times, negativity is now a positive. People whoop with delight at a negative test result – it means relative freedom, a holiday or just the ability to pop to the shops to get some milk.

The pain in the test is the waiting game that goes with it. Waiting for a slot, waiting in line, waiting for a result. But all that looks set to change as the newest batch of innovators come forward with their 30-minute tests and the future looks a little rosier than it did a couple of weeks ago.

We’ve become used to the ebb and flow of the travel corridor list.  There are very few places left that Brits can escape to without a raft of restrictions and inevitable quarantine on return. Spare a moment for the travel journalists who insist on sticking to covering places their readers can go to – they are really having to really dig deep to find stories on what’s hot in Gibraltar.

When not writing about the merits of The Rock, in recent weeks the testing for travel story has picked up momentum. It started with the Telegraph’s Test4Travel and Daily Mail’s ‘Get Britain Flying’ combined with the travel industry #SaveTravel and #SaveFutureTravel campaigns. It was one of the main themes discussed at ABTA’s Travel Convention with Mark Tanzer calling for urgent results on testing from the Global Travel Taskforce.

Increasingly, there’s more and more support from travel companies and consumers alike for a robust testing regime to allow movement of passengers across international borders.  Countries such as Iceland has tested on arrival since the early days and have ridden the second wave with manageable numbers and a transparent and most importantly easy to understand procedure. Many Caribbean islands have well documented testing systems in place and islands like Antigua and Barbados are some of the few countries left on the UK travel corridor list.

There are numerous eminent doctors who hail testing as the way forward. Dr Charlie Easmon of Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and private Harley Street practice Your Excellent Health has been testing patients for COVID-19 since spring:

Testing is the best solution because it is rooted in science. It is accurate, fast, simple and non-invasive, qualities which the current quarantine system is not. The new 30-minute RT-LAMP tests are certainly going to be a gamechanger for the travel industry as it will allow for a more efficient system where tests can be taken and results can be issued with accuracy, immediacy and certainty.  In the initial stages I can see a system where tests are combined with a short five-day quarantine being very effective.”

The Brighter Group

Our Transport Secretary Grant Shapps MP and his much-touted Global Travel Taskforce have indicated that a form of this could be on the cards. At the Aviation 2050 Conference Shapps indicated that his ‘test-and-release’ scheme could be up and running by 1st December this year. Under the new plans, travellers returning from a country off the travel corridor list would be subject to a week’s quarantine, after which they could opt to pay for a test from one of the private sector providers currently in the Secretary of State’s sights.

There is also discussion about reciprocal agreement with other destinations to test prior and post departure and even a potential travel corridor with the United States, so potentially much to look forward to. Critics, including BA’s new chief executive Sean Doyle doesn’t think we should be getting the champagne out any time soon suggesting that reducing from two weeks to one won’t make enough of a difference to get people travelling again, particularly given the current waiting time to get results. But BA’s rival Virgin Atlantic is already trialling the new FrankD testing system for crew which perhaps indicates how the airline will navigate future travel for passengers as well.

Simple but effective, FrankD has been developed by biotech firm GeneMe and in conjunction with digital ID platform Yoti, the paperless process promises to deliver test results to a user via an app within 30 minutes.  It’s futuristic stuff that gives hope to the beleaguered travel sector, particularly given the £25 price tag, a fraction of the £100+ of the current lab-reliant PCR tests in place. FrankD is already being used at West End shows for cast and crew and according to Andrew Wheeler, GeneMe UK’s CEO:

“There is a real opportunity here for forward-thinking businesses to partner with testing methods such as FrankD for a scientifically robust, technically innovative and trustworthy solution to ensure future travel is possible”.

As the second wave crashes over us and future waves seem inevitable, testing seems like a no brainer to get the travel industry back from the brink and give much needed confidence to the pandemic traveller.

ABTA is supporting WTM’s virtual 2020 event and has given the opportunity of writing a blog for the Show to our ABTA Partner, The Brighter Group, a Finn Partners Company.

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