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Sean Doyle gives his first speech as British Airways CEO, whilst Grant Shapps talks about quarantine

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Sean Doyle has been CEO of British Airways for a week now. Yesterday, he gave his first public appearance in the role as the opening airline keynote speaker at the Airlines 2050 aviation summit.

If you were expecting announcements of radical changes at British Airways you’ll be disappointed.

In the 5-minute speech, Sean doubled down on the rhetoric we’ve been hearing from British Airways and Alex Cruz in previous months outlining the existential threat faced by airlines:

Sean Doyle British Airways CEO speech

“My absolute priority is our emergence from the worst crisis in the industry […] we all need to work together right now to revive our industry.”

Quoting the recent IATA analysis of coronavirus transmission on aircraft which we wrote about here, Sean said that BA does “not believe quarantine is the solution,” and called for a “fundamental rethink” and the introduction of a “rapid pre-departure testing regime”.

He also slammed the Government’s response, saying that BA was “not getting any support or action and we are not hearing from governments what they’re thinking”.

Sean didn’t take the opportunity to announce any changes at BA, saying that “everything else [other than Covid-19] is for another day”.

Grant Shapps

Grant Shapps hopeful to have testing in place by December

Grant Shapps was also a speaker at Airlines 2050 yesterday.

Grant Shapps said he was “hopeful” to have a testing regime in place by 1st December for incoming passengers. The only caveat for having testing in place for December is for “private sector provision”.

Grant re-iterated the Government’s committent to a single test seven days after arrival as the optimum solution, which is now being implemented by the Global Travel Task Force.

A dual test – one on day zero and one at a later stage – was mooted by Shapps. “We know we don’t need two tests – I saw a lot of people calling for two tests – we don’t require two tests. What we need is a period of isolation and then a single test. That means it’s going to be cheaper.”

The problem with a single test on arrival is that it would only be able to pick up 7% of asymptomatic carriers.

He also stressed the need to know exactly who has been tested – “that probably means testing in person or an absolute guarantee on who has taken that test.” Presumably, the Government is concerned about people gaming the system.

Tests will come from private capacity and will be user-paid for. Shapps said that Public Health England would establish a minimum sensitivity and accuracy for any test but that the private sector would be able to select the tests it wanted to use.

It’s not clear why this is taking so long and what is stopping the Government making these changes today for arrivals. There is no reason why the Government could not bring in this change tomorrow.

A bigger question is whether it would make a difference. Given that a test will take 2-3 days to come back, you are still looking at 9-10 days of quarantine. Cutting just 4-5 days off the current two weeks is unlikely to make a big difference to international travel. Allowing a test to be taken on Day 5, allowing quarantine to end on Day 7 or Day 8, is probably the limit of what would be required to get people travelling.

Comments (85)

  • ChrisW says:

    If we go into a Tier 3 lockdown nationwide it will be quite similar to quarantine except you can still go out for groceries and exercise!

    • TGLoyalty says:

      Of any other reason in your household group. Restaurant shops etc

      So nothing like quarantine

      • Anna says:

        No you can’t. In Tier 3 you can only meet people outside your household in a public, outdoor space. Though this is actually an improvement for those of us who since August haven’t been allowed to meet anyone at all!

        • TGLoyalty says:

          I specifically said in your household group.

          • TGLoyalty says:

            Under quarantine you can’t leave your residence for any reason other than to get essentials, if no one else can get them for you or you have no other means of getting them ie delivery.

            Under Tier 3 you can leave your home as much as you want as long as you don’t mix with other households in certain settings.

            Therefore tier 3 is nothing like quarantine

          • Anna says:

            Apologies, your post didn’t quite make sense!

    • Andy Shutter says:

      You were allowed to go out for exercise and groceries in the March-July ‘full’ lockdown….

  • mutley says:

    The average age of those expiring from Covid is 82 and most of them had a secondary underlying health condition that they may or may not been aware off ( heart disease cancer etc) 40% of those over 82 died in care homes.

    According to the governments own boffins and Sir Patrick himself said that it usually takes 10 years to get an effective vaccine for a new virus, the record being 5 years. So in essence we have this wretched virus for some time to come, given there are multiple efforts around the world, it will probably be at least the end of next year before we see an effective vaccine rolled out ( which will no doubt be taken up by the richest countries) So we have a choice. Either carry on as near normal whilst taking reasonable precautions , face mask and sanitising hands etc and accept that the elderly and more vulnerable will die in greater numbers, OR we accept lockdowns every few months and let the economy go to hell, have over 4 million unemployed and accept higher taxes and a reduced standard of living as a result. I’m not advocating either , but it makes me smile when I see holidays planned for exotic locations in the spring and summer next year, I think you will be disappointed, I really hope to be proved wrong

    • TripRep says:

      I think countries mandating testing is the way forward to allow some tourism to restart. Watching the Maldives experiment with interest.

    • James says:

      I think you miss the point that the health service does not have capacity to treat those, of whatever age, becoming ill with Covid and needing hospital treatment. Surely this is one of the main points of a lockdown?

    • S says:

      I’m sorry @mutley, but aside from being a fairly callous attitude for older people (and those who are vulnerable for other reasons like transplant recipients and others with weakened immune systems), this overlooks several critical issues:
      1) it ignores what we know about sometimes very serious and long-lasting Covid effects even amongst those who are not vulnerable and who were previously healthy. The societal cost of this – in lost productivity, healthcare costs, out of work payments, etc – is likely to be enormous if we don’t keep the absolute number of people infected as low as possible.
      2) it takes no account of what happens if hospitals are overwhelmed. Not only will more people then die of Covid who otherwise would have lived, but over-capacity hospitals affects us all – road traffic accidents, heart attacks, and strokes still happen; cancers and heart disease still need treating. These will not be deliverable if we’re overwhelmed by Covid.
      3) the fact that Covid is infectious, so spreads, and the indicators of death/hospitalisation are lagging so make it seem like things aren’t that bad that we will hit #2 until it’s too late.

      People are viewing this as a simple trade off between economy and lives. Unfortunately, prioritising the former will still ultimately coat the latter – and end up wrecking the former anyhow. Repeated, short, sharp restrictions (note, not a full lockdown like in March) – with rapid targeted financial support for businesses and individuals affected – will be less costly and painful in the long run than letting the situation get out of control, and having to impose a proper lockdown for the sake of protecting the health service.

      • Harry T says:

        Excellent comment – wholeheartedly agree.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        While I don’t disagree. It’s a fine balancing act as ruining the economy also has far reaching and long lasting effects to many people.

        There are a significant number of households now falling into poverty because of all this and poverty is proven to lead to poor health, crime and addiction.

        Long covid is a worry for a very small % of seemingly healthy people that caught it. Let’s not forget there are many seemingly day to day viruses and bacteria that can lead to serious complications in seemingly healthy people too.

        • S says:

          I agree it is a balancing act, but I repeat: viewing it as “ruining the economy” versus health is a false dichotomy. First, rapid and targeted measures to keep the virus under control don’t have to ruin the economy. Acting quickly, providing appropriate support, etc can all ensure that public health is protected without as much economic damage as a full lockdown. Second, a full lock down – with all the associated economic and social damage – will ultimately become necessary regardless, if we let the situation spiral out of control in the first place. They can be avoided.

          • S says:

            I also meant to two things regarding “long Covid”: first, while it only affects a minority of people, from what we know already it’s still a lot more than just the “vulnerable” (I’ve seen figures of up to 2% with symptoms 3 months later). Collectively that is still an awful a lot of people, with attendant life impacts and costs for them and the government that need to be considered too. Second, we still don’t know that much about the long term effects of Covid even putting aside current figures for “long Covid”. Other viruses can have long term flare ups (shingles, for a relatively mild example). Given the multi-system effects of Covid, caution would be advised before letting it run riot through the population. If even 2-5% of people have long term consequences that’s a lot of people.

        • Bagoly says:

          “Balancing act” is spot on.
          Suppressing economic activity causes enormous damage including to health, education etc.
          Not doing things to reduce spread which suppress economic activity causes enormous damage to health, which damages the economy, education etc.
          So with all the knock-on effects it’s tricky to work out the least bad courses of action.
          I find it sad how even the academic debate seems so polarised; and it’s not soggy compromises we need but smart (and possibly quite small) ideas.

          The idea from Moscow of having students replace older teachers in primary schools is the sort of thing that has a reasonable chance of benefits outweighing disbenefits.

          Ideally one would be able to allow some (particularly elderly?) people to make choices – E.g. have care homes divided into “super-sanitary” and “open for family hugs” with residents choosing which type they want.

        • TGLoyalty says:

          @S anywhere between 40-70% of people infected will show no symptoms at all depending on what study you believe

          Therefore, 2% of symptomatic patients having long covid is still a small minority of all those who have had COVID.

          I keep seeing without interventions being taken. However, there are many interventions in place without having to shut down large parts of society.

          • Ken says:

            Liverpool is a small city with a population of about 400k.
            Less than 0.75% of the population of the UK.

            Yes, it’s a relatively poor area with pockets of chronic bad health, and yes it has a significant minority who seem to ignore any rules (both long term residents and students), but last week 54 people died of COVID and I doubt the death rate has peaked.

            I see other area in London and the South East starting to soar past the 7 day 100 per 100k rate, and the idea we are going to quickly go back to ‘normal’ seems simply delusional.
            The places in Tier 3 ( and there will be heaps more in the next 6 weeks) won’t come out of it for months.
            I just can’t see much international travel, watching live sport, music etc in the next 9 months.

    • Dave says:

      why we can’t learn from China? Apparently they have it under control and the economy is back to normal. I think all it takes is about 2 months probably lock down and then government measure to control import cases.

      • Rob says:

        I’m not sure the Chinese sytem – which involves, for example, building walls overnight around apartment blocks where someone tests positive – is necessarily what you want to see here.

        • Harry T says:

          I personally enjoy a bit of totalitarianism in the morning.

          • mvcvz says:

            The retirement age didn’t go up this month. The age at which state pension becomes available did. For anyone properly planning their financial future, the two are entirely separate.

        • Alex M says:

          They did something similar in Germany recently. If it needs to be done – it needs to be done.

    • Chris Heyes says:

      Mutley I agree with most of your comments except the reduced standard of living bit, sure most will have a reduced standard of living,
      but not all.
      I for one have been better off since lock-down, loads of bargains about and easy to negotiate direct deals.
      i don’t bother about the economy, that’s swings and roundabouts
      the worse it gets the better, share prices very low now good judgement needed but big rewards for finding the winners
      plenty of Avios availability for late next year plus same with Hotels
      But then again I’m 73 this year so could be caught out lol
      but at 73 i think i’ve had a brill life come what may lol

  • Harry T says:

    I don’t think this new plan from Schapps will make any practical difference. It’s staggering that the government has had over six months to develop a strategy to allow people to travel safely, and the best we can hope for is a flaccid half baked plan that may be enacted in December. They could at least have the decency to just copy countries with superior governance and travel strategies like Germany.

  • Navara says:

    I would like to bet all the posters saying just get on with it don’t work on the front line. NHS or otherwise

    • Yorkieflyer says:

      And I bet all of those saying stuff the economy don’t work in the private sector

      • Stanley says:

        This is an excellent point. All decisions are being made by public sector workers who have not, and will not, suffer any financial impact from this. Yet the private sector and entrepreneurs are the engine of our entire economy, and dont seem to have a say in anything.

      • Navara says:

        I work in the private sector

    • Harry T says:

      I don’t think there’s any merit to trying to make this some kind of partisan issue. Complex scenarios and problems require nuanced and open-minded thinking. It’s not as simple as economy vs health etc. I know public sector employees in the health service who advocate shielding the vulnerable and letting young people do what they want, to “save the economy”. I’m sure there are people in the private sector who think that focusing on public health is the right approach. Let’s not turn this into another Brexit style dividing issue – the truth is that we all need to work together and stay united as a country, and that requires welcoming different perspectives and lived experiences. Sometimes issues are far more complicated than they initially appear!

      • Number9 says:

        You’re about 8 months to late Harry, country is already divided on it.

        • AJA says:

          +1 I agree with you Harry but you’re too late. It’s a shame but people are either against the government whatever it does, or they try to find ways to circumvent the rules or complain when it doesn’t suit their individual circumstances. The media are partially responsible as all this division is good for clicks. Politicians also are only doing what they are in order to appear relevant.

  • Yorkieflyer says:

    Are we sure Sean Doyle isn’t an alter ego of Adrian Chiles?

  • James says:

    The government continues be pathetic on this when this is a really easy solve. There is a level of risk which the government finds acceptable. The response only needs to provide relevant mitigation to the level of risk.
    Beyond the travel corridors medium risk , 20-40 per 100k countries just requires a test on arrival and no quarantine. Studies from Canada show 80% risk reduction from a test on arrival which would bring the risk below acceptable risk standard. For high risk 40-80 per 100k again no quarantine but two tests 5 days apart to reduce false positives and catch asymptomatic people. At very high risk eg. 80 or 100+ per 100k a quarantine of 5 days and two tests. Also this requires is same day tests which we have and because it will be at scale a cost of £50 for relevant tests. This can either be collected by airlines or the government upon leaving the UK and if no tests are required returned to the customer. Ensuring coverage as needed.

    This is a all eminently doable, scalable and practical and ensures a return to most normal travel. The government just needs to put its glasses on and find the 3 braincells it still has remaining.

  • Martin Seebach says:

    Where does that 7% number come from? “Studies”, yes, but it seems intuitively wrong. What about travellers makes tests so ineffective, and why doesn’t that make tests ineffective in all other scenarios as well? It seems to assume a lot about _when_ travellers get infected. Perhaps it only catches 7% of those _who get infected on the flight_? Given the low risk of getting infected on a flight, this would seem like a minor issue that shouldn’t stand in the way of re-starting travel (also, we have very good contact tracing for flight passengers — it’s easy to notify everybody if anyone on the flight had it)

    This would not exactly be the first time a head-line number from a study gets misinterpreted and paraded around, in support of a conclusion that it doesn’t actually support. Sounds like a worthy cause for HfP to dive into?

    • James says:

      Yeah it seems nonsense. Studies from Candia suggest arrival testing gets 80% of infected so 7% must be those infected in transit either at the airport or on the plane which would almost seem high as they wouldn’t likely have any level of viral load to register positive. The 80% seems higher than I expected but give that transmission in airports and particularly on planes is very low I suppose it makes sense.

      • James says:


      • Mark says:

        The 80% figure seems high to me as well, given that during the first 2-3 days you’re highly unlikely to test positive anyway, combined with the potential for false negatives after that. OTOH the 7% figure seems implausibly low.

        My view for what it is worth is pre-flight testing for everyone which would reduce the risks of transmission in-flight, with follow-up testing where someone has been somewhere with substantially higher community transmission rates. Ultimately if it’s already circulating it’s no more necessary to pick up every single imported case than it is every single community infection. It’s all about isolating as many positive cases as reasonably possible, and the fact that people opting to travel would be undergoing (presumably self-funded) tests that they otherwise wouldn’t must go some way to offset the missed ones.

    • Alex says:

      This, exactly this. The 7% number has been debunked many times, but politicians don’t always understand science. It seems rapid testing, even if not 100% accurate, would catch a good proportion of infectious people pre-flight. And a test 4-5 days after arrival would catch the rest, although that is maybe too much to allow travel to restart — unless of course you’re allowed out in between.

      I don’t think HfP is the right place for such an article though. It’s best left to scientific publications. But Rob is the editor so he’ll decide whether he takes you up on the offer 🙂

      • Anon says:

        On this occasion I don’t see any quotes around the 7%. Looks like HfP got lazy this time. The original ‘study’ (model) that presented it messed up and real data has since debunked it every time. Around 55% – 60% of infectees are found from Day 0 arrivals testing. The Canada results are higher so far but look to have selection bias. The Day 5 follow up boosts the catch another 20%-25%.
        The Lamp rapid tests may well push the numbers further towards pre-departure testing and, if fast and accurate enough, become usable in the workplace and venues.

        • Rhys says:

          That’s what Grant Shapps said! Go watch the interview. It’s freely available.

  • TT says:

    All the Covid comments seem to ignore that The NHS not coping and therefore lock downs must be needed have more to do with the NHS service being cut to pieces over the last few decades. When I hear that the NHS is not coping, I always think its not covid that is the bad guy, but the very poor condition the NHS is in. Covid only shows that the NHS is not coping for years, has been cut down for years, had no investment needed in infrastructure for years. The NHS struggles to cope with drunken people, glassed youth in high heels, and addicts during the weekends, why would they be able to cope with a pandemic? Are we saying the NHS was a super ran business with great positive results, happy staff before covid? You come to the north to a regional hospital and you wonder if you have been teleported to 1960!!!!….. the people in the NHS are great, the rest not so. If the NHS was funded as should be, coping mechanisms would be much greater. So lets all focus on when we can fly in our flat seat again, and ignore that Boris is making sure a no deal brexit is gonna be the next pandemic to deal with on this island!

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