London’s Heathrow airport said Wednesday it plans to offer fast-track lanes for fully-vaccinated arriving passengers, as the UK government winds down its pandemic curbs.
The government is expected Thursday to announce that travelers coming to England from “amber” countries – the middle-ranking for Covid incidence, covering most of Europe – will no longer have to quarantine.
In advance, Heathrow said it was launching a pilot program for passengers coming from selected destinations to enter an immigration fast track on arrival, after showing proof they have received both doses of a coronavirus vaccine.
“This pilot will allow us to show that pre-departure and arrival checks of vaccination status can be carried out safely at check-in, so that fully vaccinated passengers can avoid quarantine from July 19,” Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said.
July 19 is the government’s target date for lifting most pandemic restrictions in England, although many scientists are worried about the plan as infection rates soar from the more contagious Delta variant.
The government, however, says a successful mass vaccination program has weakened the link connecting infections to hospitalizations and deaths.
More than 86% of adults in the UK have received at least one jab, and 64% are fully vaccinated, according to official data.
“The UK is already falling behind (the) US and EU, and a continued overly cautious approach towards international travel will further impact economic recovery and the 500,000 UK jobs that are at stake,” said Shai Weiss, chief executive of the airline Virgin Atlantic.
The Heathrow trial will initially cover passengers flying in on selected flights from Athens, Los Angeles, Montego Bay in Jamaica and New York.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Tuesday said people in England who have been double-jabbed – as well as under-18s – will no longer have to self-isolate if they have been in contact with someone who tests positive for Covid-19.
But the easing will only apply from August 16, almost a month after other controls are due to have ended, including the mandatory wearing of face masks in enclosed spaces.
The UK’s other nations – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – set their own health policy and are moving more slowly.