The Scottish and Welsh Governments are in talks with their international airports to launch the UK’s first Covid tests on business travellers and holidaymakers that could enable them to sidestep quarantine.
Amid criticism of the English Government for dragging its feet, Mark Drakeford, Wales’s first minister, disclosed he was “in discussions” with Cardiff airport to see if "we can find a practical way in which airport testing itself could be carried out.”
He suggested it would be voluntary but could enable travellers returning to the principality to avoid or shorten their time in quarantine if they were coming from a “red list” country.
Wales was the first home nation to introduce regional “air bridges” by allowing quarantine free travel from mainland Greece but barring islands and from the Azores and Madeira while Portugal remained banned. England and Scotland followed suit.
Nicola Sturgeon's Government is also in discussions with Scotland's airport chiefs over introducing passenger testing but no plans have yet been approved.
Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, said that "after many months we've finally got agreement" to examine alternatives to quarantine with the aim of giving "the First Minister an informed choice to make."
Sources at the airport added: “[The Scottish Government] have been quite positive in a sense and we are working with them and moving forward. We are working towards [a pilot scheme] with the Government.”
Speaking at her daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon said: "We have been in talks with airports. Every time we let a case of Covid into the country, we spark potentially another outbreak, which we then have to get on top of and firefight.
"This is about how you best guard against that. The judgement is whether quarantine is a better mitigation than testing."
Around 30 countries offer airport Covid-19 tests, including Iceland where airport swabbing followed by a second test can cut quarantine from 14 to five days.
In Germany, airport test results can cut self-isolation to three days. Britain’s biggest airport, Heathrow, is proposing the same approach as Jersey and already has a test facility capable of 13,000 swabs a day but it stands idle as it awaits Government approval to ease quarantine if people test negative.
Yesterday Boris Johnson told the Commons liaison committee: “In the large majority of cases, tests at airports can produce false negative results which give people a false sense of security.”
Some experts say quarantine can never be eliminated for travel from high-risk areas, because two separate coronavirus tests several days apart are needed for accuracy.
Karen Dee, Chief Executive, Airport Operators Association, said: “We have been calling for the introduction of a testing regime since June. By any standard, three months is more than long enough to introduce a robust testing system for international travellers.
“The lack of urgency from the Government on testing is concerning and risks stifling aviation’s recovery before it has begun.
“Testing will be one way the Government can help the industry to bring back air travel but must be combined with financial support to get it through what looks to be a very tough winter season so we can protect jobs and support the UK economy.
“It is essential that the Government grasps the severity of the crisis faced by the aviation sector and introduces a UK wide testing system without any further delays.”