If the policy is introduced, the government must provide an exit plan, says the PC Agency’s Paul Charles
Airport hotels are about to record a jump in occupancy rates that, in normal times, would be music to their ears. But the circumstances for the rise are far from ideal.
The rather secretive Covid-O group of senior Cabinet ministers and officials is to meet on Tuesday to decide whether to lock down Britain’s borders even further than they have already.
On the agenda are a raft of possible measures designed to keep out further variants of Covid-19 following concerns caused by the so-called South Africa and Brazil strains. These are possibly deadlier than the original Covid-19 seen in the UK.
It is understandable that new variants have changed the narrative and the course of the pandemic.
Now, when few people are travelling, there is a window in which it seems sensible to stop further strains which may dilute the effects of the vaccine rollout and also cause further, unnecessary deaths.
Yet what Covid-O decides will have major ramifications for the livelihood of those working in the aviation and travel sector, especially if there is no clear roadmap for removing the restrictions.
It was only a week ago that the so-called ‘Travel Triple Lock’ was put into place – forcing anyone coming into the UK to test negative for Covid up to 72 hours before their flight/ferry/Eurostar journey; to complete a Passenger Locator Form; and also quarantine for 10 days, or Test To Release after five days.
Early indications are that this policy is already having an effect on reducing cases coming into the UK. Effective testing captures well over 90% of any infections.
However, the recently-introduced policy is also knocking consumer confidence to book for a future trip.
Consumers need to know what the exit plan is for such measures; how long they may be in place for and whether the end date is realistic enough for them to book future trips with certainty.
So when Covid-O makes its decision, it needs to be upfront with consumers, and the travel sector, and declare whether it has conducted an Economic Impact Assessment on the implications of forcing every traveller to quarantine for 10 days in a hotel.
Such a move would destroy confidence to book and would lead to a collapse in booking revenues for airlines, tour operators and many other travel specialists; as well as a collapse in visitor numbers spending money inbound.
While some government sources say hotel quarantine has worked in Australia, it’s important to understand that the UK is nothing like Australia. It is far more interconnected with neighbouring countries and there are far more international flights. People have chosen to live in the UK due to their proximity to family members, or work, in countries such as France, Spain and Germany. We don’t just travel for a holiday these days.
If Covid-O decides to implement hotel quarantine only for travellers from high-risk countries, then that would be a far more acceptable policy to the sector. A decision may also be taken to scrap the new Test To Release scheme and ensure everyone has to self-isolate for 10 days.
We know with the benefit of hindsight that, once in place, governments have a habit of very much keeping policies there.
So with the new measures, Boris Johnson needs to give a timeline for when they will be removed and be upfront on the economic impact on the aviation and travel sector. That impact could then be mitigated with financial support from the chancellor.
No-one wants to visit Hotel Quarantine, especially not for 10 days. But if it does become reality, we need to know when the government will check-out of such a harsh, economically-damaging scheme.
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