An aircraft comes in to land at Heathrow Airport in west London. | Toby Melville

Britain is urgently looking at ways to reduce the 14-day quarantine period which applies to some arriving passengers, transport minister Grant Shapps said on Wednesday, adding that a mix of COVID-19 testing and self-isolation was promising.

Arrivals from countries like France, Spain and the United States must self-isolate for 14 days on arrival in Britain, a restriction which airlines say is crushing travel demand.

Shapps said he was setting up a Global Travel Taskforce to open up international travel.
"The overall aim of the Taskforce will be to consider what steps the government can take... to enable the safe and sustainable recovery of international travel," he added in a statement. It would report back no later than early November.

In July, Britain changed its policy from a blanket quarantine to one which established "travel corridors" to countries with low infection rates.

But with cases on the rise in several places, the list of countries on the quarantine exemption list is dwindling, and the travel industry has warned it faces an existential crisis unless the policy is changed again.

"My ministerial colleagues and I have agreed that a regime, based on a single test, provided by the private sector and at the cost of the passenger after a period of self-isolation, could achieve our objective," Shapps said.

Virgin Atlantic, easyJet, London's Heathrow airport and Manchester Airports Group said that a test of a passenger after five days should be the starting point of proposals in a joint statement.

But airline body IATA said that 80% of travellers said they would not fly at all if any quarantine were in place.

"The proposals on the table do not go as far as we had hoped," the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said. "A reduction in the length of quarantine is the very minimum needed to restart travel demand."