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Passengers down 71 per cent at Heathrow, asks for changes to travel rules

file photo: a public health campaign message is displayed on an arrivals information board at heathrow airport, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (covid 19), london, britain
An arrivals information board at Heathrow Airport

Britain’s biggest airport Heathrow said on Monday passenger numbers were still 71 per cent lower in August compared to the same month before the COVID-19 pandemic, as it demanded that the government change its travel rules to help the sector recover.

Heathrow blamed the complicated, changing and expensive rules for those arriving in the United Kingdom for Britain’s much slower travel recovery versus competitors, pushing it down to 10th busiest European airport, from its top spot in 2019.

Expectations are growing that there will be a simplification of those travel rules, after Health Minister Sajid Javid said on Sunday that he wanted to “get rid of” expensive PCR tests for travellers as soon as possible.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will this week set out his plans to manage the COVID-19 pandemic in the winter months.

Heathrow said in its statement that it would favour a two-tier system with destination countries rated either low risk or high risk, with the latter still requiring hotel quarantine.

Fully vaccinated travellers would be able to travel freely, the system being used by many European countries, while those not vaccinated would take pre-departure or arrival tests using lateral flow tests, which are cheaper than PCR tests.

Currently there are three tiers, with expensive tests always required even for those who are fully vaccinated.

The airport said major airlines supported the idea, as it warned of the consequences of not improving the current system.

“If ministers fail to take this opportunity to streamline the travel rules then the UK will fall further behind as trade and tourists will increasingly by-pass the UK,” Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said.

The airport also called on the government to ensure it had adequate staff at the border after reports of hours-long queues in recent weeks.

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