The UK will pioneer a system of pre-travel testing for COVID-19 and self-isolation - but has rejected tests on arrival at British airports.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also said a "test and release" system could cut the 14-day quarantine for returning holidaymakers and visitors to the UK to a week or less for those who test negative after arrival.
“We’re proposing both a domestic test regime, when people land and wait a week, have a test and get early release," he told the online conference of the ABTA travel industry association on Wednesday.
“We’re also proposing an internationally recognised system, in which Britain would be a trailblazer," Shapps added, "when tests and isolation take place prior to travel and after travel and would require no quarantine."
But the minister restated the government's opposition to testing at airports, as called for by British airline industry group Airlines UK in a letter to Prime Minster Boris Johnsonn last month, on the basis that it would only identify a small fraction of disease carriers.
"A day-Zero, on-arrival-test, could allow for significant numbers of people to wrongly believe they are not bringing Covid-19 back with them,” Shapps said. “We believe this is a situation that has occurred in other countries.”
ABTA chief executive Mark Tanzer called Shapp's speech “very retrospective" and called for a travel equivalent of the UK's new three-tier lockdown regime to replace the current system of national quarantine restrictions and travel bans.
"We must now move away from the blanket Foreign Office advice and have a regionalised, targeted approach to both Foreign Office advice and quarantine," Tanzer said. “If we don’t act now – if our government doesn’t act now – to stabilise the situation and rebuild customer confidence, there is a real danger that those jobs will be lost for ever.”
Other countries including France, Germany, Russia and Portugal already require passengers to show a negative pre-flight coronavirus test result on arrival, or allow them to skip quarantine if they have one. Guatemala in Central America now requires a negative test before departure, having previously closed its borders entirely.
Last week Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade cautiously welcomed news that the government was mooting a pre-travel testing regime.
"We need to get to pre-departure testing for all arrivals in the UK – which is becoming the international norm – as soon as practically possible," Alderslade said.
"Aviation is at a critical juncture and we have no time to lose, and we urge the Prime Minister to move quickly to get testing off the ground no later than the end of November so Britain does not lose further ground with its closest rivals.”