A British healthcare company that operates across the UK providing private COVID-19 testing for airline passengers, private individuals, and businesses, has called upon the UK government to ‘stop sitting on the fence’ over the continued lockdown on air travel restrictions.
Covid testing provider, Salutaris People, is calling on the UK government to open up both domestic and international air travel as they firmly believe that the combination of testing, vaccinations, and other safety measures can get the airline and travel industry moving again. They want the government to give a clear and definitive set of dates to allow the safe resumption of air travel during its much-anticipated announcement on the 12th April.
Ross Tomkins, MD of Salutaris People, urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson and secretary of state for transport, Grant Shapps, to put down a series of ‘firm’ and ‘actual’ dates when domestic, European and international air travel can be fully resumed, which will give certainty and restore confidence to both the airline and travel industries.
The CEO and founder of several successful medical and healthcare businesses, Tomkins believes that a combined programme of regular COVID-19 testing alongside the vaccination programme, the wearing of masks, and regular hand sanitisation is the key to resuming confidence in air travel. He warned that, unless a clear set of dates were laid out during the announcement on the 12th April, the government would risk plunging the UK economy into ‘an even greater economic crisis than we are currently facing.’
Tomkins also warned of the ‘ticking time bomb’ of mental and physical health issues that will impact and overwhelm the NHS and private healthcare practices for decades to come. He says: ‘The government simply cannot continue to act in this manner and offer such vagaries over air travel any longer. The government’s indecision and actions surrounding the resumption of air travel have been incompetent at best and reckless at worst. We need a clear and unequivocal set of dates for a staged resumption in air travel. Factored into that plan, there needs to be a clear remit of pushing through with COVID-19 testing, the wearing of masks, social distancing, and thorough hand sanitisation. I believe the public would gladly comply with these requirements if it meant they could resume air travel, enjoying leisure, and holiday breaks again.’
He continued: ‘The simple facts are that UK is now £2 trillion in debt, the high street is decimated, businesses are going to the wall, people are losing their jobs. We now have some of the biggest airlines and travel companies in the world on the verge of collapse and who may literally go out of business overnight. Without a clear, robust plan, and certainty of precise dates air travel can resume again, the airlines and travel companies cannot continue to survive.
‘This is not to mention the phenomenal impact Covid has had on the public’s mental health and general well-being. Across our occupational health practices, we have seen a sharp increase in employees and patients suffering from stress, anxiety, and musculoskeletal disorders including those with long Covid. Such issues are significantly affecting their day-to-day lives and their ability to function in the workplace.’
His comments come after shares in airlines and travel firms across Europe took a dive last week, wiping millions off the value of shares. IAG, which owns British Airways, saw its shares drop the most at 15%, while EasyJet dropped 10%, TUI AG 8.9% and Ryanair 7.4%. Other European airlines also followed suit with share prices downgraded over the uncertainty of the leisure holiday market and wider international travel.
Consultant virologist and infectious diseases physician, Dr Brendan Payne, who advises Akea Life, the clinical services provider to Salutaris People, believes that COVID-19 testing will remain alongside the requirement to wear face masks for at least the next three years in any form of air travel. He says: ‘The NHS and Public Health England (PHE) will need to maintain Covid testing capability indefinitely. Covid will not be eliminated by vaccinations and we need to find long-term solutions to live with it. An intensive programme of Covid testing is key as a major defence against new waves and new strains compromising our gains from vaccination. I don’t see this changing for at least the next year and probably longer. The most likely scenario for the next few years is a continued “arms race” between new variants of Covid and vaccination. Widespread Covid testing is absolutely crucial and critical in winning that battle.
‘For travel that is permitted for summer 2021, I would expect that this will continue to rely heavily on pre (and post) travel testing. I don’t think vaccination status will feature significantly in the travel rules for most countries this year. Current Covid vaccines are on average perhaps 80% effective and not everyone will agree to have one. There will always be a certain number of Covid infections in the public, despite widespread vaccination. Indeed, in many ways, it becomes more important to test widely once Covid numbers become lower because you need to know as quickly as possible if you are starting to lose control of the situation again. This is critical in quickly identifying hot spots of infection cases rising.
‘By 2022, you would hope that we might be in a position of much more standardised international rules for air travel. This might feature vaccination status, however, I still foresee a significant role for testing, perhaps “proof of vaccination” and a “negative” test would be the rule. I think that masks are almost certainly going to be required on any kind of transport for at least the next three years, and quite possibly very long-term.’
Salutaris People which has a series of COVID-19 clinics across the north-west is also a partner in the first rapid PCR test facility at a UK airport. Salutaris People are working in partnership with Test Assurance Group (TAG) and Liverpool John Lennon Airport. The express testing suite – which has its own on-site laboratory at the airport – provides clients with a rapid PCR test and certificate in under three hours offering ‘fit to fly,’ ‘test to release,’ alongside two and eight-day testing. It is one of the only airports in the UK able to do this, compared to the normal 48-hour turnaround for PCR tests.
Salutaris People is also currently working towards UKAS registration and ISO/IEC 17025 status in line with the government’s recommendations to regulate private sector COVID-19 testing services.
Ben Paglia, MD of Akea Life, the clinical partner of Salutaris said: ‘The government needs to offer a clear set of concrete dates for the resumption of air travel, even if this is in stages and staggered. Certain “hotspot” countries could be restricted for air travel until vaccination programmes are up to speed, but this must be combined with regular COVID-19 testing.
‘Business and essential travel could open up first, followed by leisure and holiday travel. Passengers could be identified as “fit to fly” providing they have been vaccinated or taken a PCR test, along with the continuation of wearing masks alongside social distancing and strict hand sanitisation protocols. At least this way we would start to make some progress and have some certainty for the airline and travel industry. Right now, so many people are suffering from lockdown fatigue, mental health issues, and anxiety, and depression. Just the ability to even plan and book a flight or holiday would provide light at the end of the tunnel and lift the spirits of so many people.’
Salutaris, in conjunction with its healthcare and clinical partners Akea Life, Therapy Direct, and Normedica, is also offering a unique COVID-19 concierge service to clients by bringing private Covid PCR testing to their location. A trained healthcare professional will come to a private residence, hotel, or location and administer PCR tests. The tests are then couriered back to the mobile laboratory facilities providing express PCR results within one to three hours. The company also plans to offer this service across the UK in other key locations and airports.
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