The government’s “air bridges” plan to exempt low coronavirus inflection rate countries from a 14-day UK quarantine is being widely interpreted as providing a lifeline for foreign holidays this summer.
Both The Times and Daily Telegraph lead their front pages this morning with the proposal put forward by transport secretary Grant Shapps on Monday.
He told MPs that the strict quarantine rules for international arrivals expected to be confirmed this week could be relaxed in favour of a more targeted focus on people from high-risk countries.
The impending quarantine scheme had dashed hopes of any prospects of a revival in foreign travel this summer as any holiday would be followed by two weeks in isolation – with the prospect of fines of at least £1,000 for breaches of the rules
However, it was later revealed that the plans would be reviewed every three weeks to ensure they remain “effective and necessary” – opening the prospect of agreements with countries such as Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and Germany. Greece has been heavily lobbying for British tourists to be permitted to return this summer without quarantine restrictions.
The strict quarantine could be relaxed by the end of June at the earliest.
Only visitors from the common travel areas including Ireland, Guernsey and Jersey will be exempt, along with a “very limited” group of up to 30 professions or jobs, under the policy to be announced this week.
The bulk of exemptions will be 12,000 freight drivers a day bringing in food, medicines and vital supplies. Others will be in specialist jobs protecting national security or critical infrastructure or required to meet international obligations.
These include diplomats, defence personnel, specialist engineers, some police and border officers, some Eurostar staff and North Sea oil rig workers.
The regulations will be enforced by Border Force officers with some support inland from the police. Thousands of furloughed immigration enforcement officers could also be deployed, according to the Telegraph.
But hopes are growing that the blanket quarantine could be replaced by more targeted measures, possibly within weeks. The European Union has banned tourists from outside the bloc until the middle of next month but is anxious to stimulate vital tourism revenue this summer.
The prime minister’s spokesman yesterday confirmed that the quarantine plans would be reviewed every three weeks “to ensure they are in line with the latest scientific advice and that they remain effective and necessary”.
The idea of establishing “air bridges” between countries with low infection rates was raised by Commons transport select committee chairman Huw Merriman, who suggested that people from these countries should “not be subject to quarantine, which would boost confidence in aviation and travel”.
Shapps indicated that the government would ultimately move to this model but declined to say when it would happen.
“The final details of the quarantine scheme will be released soon and come in early next month,” he told MPs. “We should indeed consider further improvements, for example, things like air bridges, enabling people from other countries who have themselves achieved lower levels of coronavirus infection to come to the country.
“So those are active discussions that will go beyond what will initially be a blanket situation.”
An Airlines UK spokesman said: “Airlines are not going to operate if people are effectively told not to travel and that is going to do a lot of damage both to our tourism industry and businesses who rely on aviation for their supply chains and exports.”
“The 14-day lockdown has no credibility and I think will be eliminated by the time we get to the end of June anyway,” he added.
O’Leary said: “We think we can stimulate an awful lot of bookings. There is a lot of pent-up demand from families. Business travel may take a bit longer
“I would expect by the end of the first week of June a lot of European economics will be out of lockdown, schools will return, retail will return.
“People have been locked up at home for 10-15 weeks. Once confidence is restored we think you will see significant return to flying stimulated by low prices.”
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