Air bridges to let British tourists skip coronavirus quarantine
Tuesday June 02 2020, 9.00am BST, The Times
Blanket restrictions forcing arrivals in the country to isolate for a fortnight will be introduced on Monday
“Air bridges” between Britain and low-risk countries are likely to be introduced by the end of this month amid mounting opposition to quarantine measures.
Blanket restrictions forcing arrivals in the country to isolate for a fortnight will be introduced on Monday.
However, in a boost for hopes of summer holidays abroad, the government is planning to ease these measures three weeks later following warnings that the hardline approach would devastate the economic recovery.
Majority would avoid travel abroad
Would you go on holiday abroad if the government requires you to quarantine for two weeks when you return?
If you would go on holiday, would you observe the two week qurantine when you got home?
Data based on a survey of 711 people
Chart: The Times Source: Clickstay
A five-point assessment will be used by ministers to judge which countries will be prioritised for possible quarantine-free air bridge agreements. The criteria emphasises the economic importance of the country to the UK, the number of passengers and amount of trade, the Covid-19 “risk picture” and the health screening requirements in place at airports for departing passengers bound for Britain.
It is likely that a country’s Covid-19 controls and ensuring the R rate of infection is low will be the overriding factors in whether a deal is reached.
From Monday anyone arriving in the UK, including Britons returning from overseas, will be required to self-isolate for two weeks. Spot checks will be carried out on addresses and £1,000 fines could be imposed on people flouting the rules. The plans will be reviewed every three weeks.
The government has acknowledged that it is drawing up plans to replace the blanket measures with air bridges that would enable people to travel, without being quarantined, between countries where the risk of coronavirus infection is low.
Simon Clarke, the regional growth minister, told BBC Breakfast: “This is a proportionate step to minimise the risk of bringing new cases into society”. He stressed, however, that it was temporary and time-limited.
Yesterday sources told The Times that the plan was likely to be implemented at the first opportunity, when the quarantine is subject to review on June 29. The government was looking at this “very seriously; as things stand they will happen, likely on 29 June,” one source said.
A senior government official said the introduction of air bridges in time for at least part of the summer holiday season was becoming “more likely” and that work was taking place across Whitehall on implementation. The official said it was possible that the policy would not be adopted after the first review period. Priti Patel, the home secretary, is said to remain sceptical.
Boris Johnson hinted last week that the shift was possible by the end of this month providing that the UK “makes progress in tackling the disease, and . . . that the other countries are in at least as good a position as we are”.
Stephen Hammond, the former transport minister, said that establishing air bridges would be a “sensible, targeted response” to the crisis. “I think, as we’ve seen across the world, people are taking measures out of lockdown and this targeted approached would be a much more sensible way to behave,” he told Today on BBC Radio 4.
Separately the government has announced that more than 400 British travellers stranded in six central and south American countries will be repatriated on two charter flights this month.
The flights will depart from Quito in Ecuador and San Jose in Costa Rica. Travellers in Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama can board “sweeper flights” toreach Quito and San Jose.
“This is a complex operation with British travellers wanting to return home from across central and south America,” Wendy Morton, the minister for the Americas, said. “Our teams across the region are doing everything they can to get as many people as possible home to their families and will continue to provide support to British nationals who remain.”