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Heathrow trialling fast-track lanes for vaccinated arrivals

  • Heathrow airport reopening Terminal 3 in anticipation of a tourism boom
  • Virgin Atlantic and British Airways partner to trial ID process for double-vaccinated passengers
  • Travellers expected to benefit from airline competition and “airport wars”
  • Heathrow airport trialling a fast-track lane for vaccinated arrivals

UK airports and travel firms have responded positively to confirmation that most coronavirus restrictions will be lifted on July 19th, with mask-wearing and social distancing also ending.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also announced that double-vaccinated passengers travelling from “amber” listed destinations will not have to quarantine upon arriving in the UK.

In a Downing Street press conference, the UK Prime Minister said coronavirus vaccinations were severing the link between hospitalisations and deaths, so we will work with the travel industry to remove restrictions for fully vaccinated arrivals.

However, Mr Johnson stated that stringent restrictions would remain in place for passengers arriving from “red” list destinations such as Brazil, India and South Africa.

Still, the news was welcomed by the travel and tourism industry, with Heathrow airport revealing that it plans to reopen Terminal 3 in anticipation of a tourism boom.

Heathrow airport reopening Terminal 3

Heathrow is the UK’s busiest airport, with a record 80.9 million passengers travelling through the airport in 2019. Heathrow maintained its status as one of the best airports in the world for another successive year in 2019, reporting annual revenue of GBP 1.1BN.

However, with passenger numbers down by 91% on 2019 levels and losses forecast to balloon to GBP 3.1BN, summer economic recovery is vital.

Terminal 3 closed in May 2020, when most of the global travel industry came to a standstill due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the latest headlines, Virgin Atlantic and Delta will be returning to London Heathrow Airport Terminal 3 first, with both airlines currently operating flights out of Terminal 2.

The reopening of Terminal 3 means that four terminals at Heathrow airport will be operational, with Virgin Atlantic expected to reopen its Clubhouse lounge for upper-class passengers to encourage business travel.

Contactless options have also been integrated to allow customers to use QR codes to order food and beverages to their seats to reduce social contact.

However, it is worth noting that mask-wearing might be compulsory when not seated or due to legal requirements in the destination country.

The UK government announced July 15th as the scheduled date for the relaxation of travel restrictions, but a Times report suggested that ministers will not implement these changes until July 26th.

Britain’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is expected to deliver an update on the plan later this week.

Still, not everyone is pleased by the latest update, with one UK arrival labelling quarantine arrangements for red list destinations a “joke”.

Mr Anderson Hanauer arrived in Britain following a 12-hour flight from Brazil. He was then made to endure a four-hour wait in Terminal 2 before a coach came to take him to a government-designated hotel near the Stansted airport.

Mr Hanauer claimed that there was no food or water available. After waiting 90 minutes, he was escorted by security into the terminal – where green and amber arrivals are also present – to purchase food.

He also claimed that security told him to keep quiet about arriving from a red list destination, raising concerns about organisation, professionalism and public safety.

Heathrow is expected to use its Terminal 4 for red list passengers to prevent cross-contamination.

The airport also announced that it is partnering with the UK’s national flag carrier, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic to trial fast-track lanes for fully vaccinated arrivals.

BA and Virgin Atlantic trialling fast-track lanes at Heathrow Airport

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will be trialling a new ID process for vaccinated arrivals in efforts to prove to the UK government that it’s possible to streamline check-in procedures.

The trial comes amid calls from the aviation industry for the UK to introduce quarantine-free travel for double-vaccinated travellers to deliver a meaningful restart to international travel.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is due to announce further details on the scheme this week. However, recent reports suggest that the ID certification trial will apply to passengers on selected flights to Heathrow from Athens, Los Angeles, Montego Bay and New York.

Although those involved in the trial will use a dedicated fast-track lane upon arriving in the UK, they will still need to adhere to rules outlined under the UK government’s traffic light system, meaning testing and quarantine could still be necessary.

However, BA and Virgin hope that the trial will reassure the UK government and health ministers that airlines and airports can streamline vaccination checks, which will ease pressure on immigration.

Heathrow, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic will be accepting internationally recognised vaccination IDs such as US state-level digital certificates, EU COVID passports, CDC cards and NHS app certification.

The trial was announced just days after UK PM Boris Johnson said he would lift most lockdown restrictions in England from July 19th, including reopening nightclubs and other nighttime entertainment venues.

John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow Airport, said: “Double-vaccinated passengers should be allowed to travel to amber-listed countries quarantine free. 

“At the moment, they are not allowed to do that, and our trial aims to demonstrate to the UK government that we can safely and efficiently check double vaccination status before travellers board the plane.”

BA Chief Executive Sean Doyle is also confident that the fast-track lane trial will be a success. He told the BBC: “We look forward to providing the data that proves it’s simple for fully vaccinated status to be verified and to the Government meeting its commitment to get the country moving again.”

Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic’s chief executive, Shai Weiss, said that the trial would show the industry’s ability to work with the government and other authorities to ensure the restart of transatlantic travel is smoothly and safely implemented.

The group said that Britain was not reaping the economic and social rewards of having a world-leading vaccine programme, putting the UK’s travel industry at a disadvantage to other territories such as the EU, which accepts most fully vaccinated tourists.

They also stressed the importance of ensuring that fully vaccinated arrivals are not treated differently to double vaccinated passengers arriving in other countries and reducing queues at the border to avoid discouraging travel.

Still, concerns have been raised over the implementation of the policy and the ease with which you can verify COVID vaccine status when countries are using different methods to store an individual’s vaccination or testing status.

Some countries have issued paper certification; others use digital passports or apps to record vaccination status; however, the software used differs worldwide.

Furthermore, with coronavirus cases in the UK surging, health experts have warned the UK government that vaccines are not 100% effective and that new emergent strains could have some resistance.

In the last 24 hours, Britain recorded 28,773 new daily coronavirus cases, 406 new hospital admissions and 37 deaths – significantly higher than the three reported the previous day.

The Delta variant, which has now been detected in more than 100 countries, is expected to become the dominant strain globally, as countries with both low and high vaccination coverage report sharp spikes in new cases of the virus.

Several countries, including Australia, South Africa, Thailand, Russia and Portugal, have either extended lockdown measures or reintroduced more stringent restrictions to curb the spread of the Delta variant.

The rapidly spreading Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 has also raised concerns over impending changes to the self-isolation rule in Britain.

Fully vaccinated Britons will no longer have to self-isolate

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that fully vaccinated Britons will not be forced to self-isolate if someone within their bubble tests positive for COVID.

Although industry groups have said the move couldn’t come soon enough, highlighting the financial strain it placed on key sectors of the economy such as hospitality, easing has increased fears about another deadly wave of infections plaguing Britain.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: “Going to a pub after the final unlocking of the economy will be a massive risk to public health.

“I wouldn’t go to a pub that wasn’t still having six around a table and social distancing. Otherwise, you run the risk of everyone in the pub being pinged and locked down.”

Although ministers have extended the self-isolation rule change for double-vaccinated people from July 15th to August 16th, UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned that this could still trigger an exponential spike in COVID cases.

Mr Javid told the UK government that daily cases could rise to over 100K this summer despite the success of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “we always did say there would be a third wave. We must sadly reconcile ourselves to more deaths.”

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