Saturday 9 May 2020

Nail in the coffin for foreign travel: Airline bosses say Boris's 'devastating' lockdown plan to quarantine all UK arrivals for TWO WEEKS will 'kill off' industry as business chiefs warn it signals Britain is closed

Authorities will carry out spot checks and those found to be breaking the rules are to face fines of up to £1,000 or even deportation (pictured, airline passengers wearing face masks are seen at Heathrow Airport)
Airline chiefs have slammed Boris Johnson's plans to quarantine UK arrivals for two weeks, warning it could 'kill off' the industry completely.

From June, all arrivals in the UK - including returning Britons - will be quarantined for 14 days and face £1,000 fines or deportation if they fail to do so.

The announcement of the new travel measures comes seven weeks into the nation-wide coronavirus lockdown.

Government officials are working to avoid a second wave of the bug, which has killed more than 31,000 people in the UK alone.

Key workers and travellers from Ireland will be exempt from the quarantine, MailOnline understands. The government has not yet revealed who will be categorised as 'key workers' and therefore be excused from self-isolating. 

Travellers will have to fill in a digital form giving the address of where they will be in quarantine. This will then be checked at airports, ports and Eurostar stations, although it is not yet clear which agency will provide staff to do this or on what database the forms will be stored on. 

The scheme will be enforced by spot checks on the addresses but ministers have not said whether this will involve the police, Border Force or NHS. 

The ISU union - which represents borders, immigration and customs staff - called for clarity on the policy, with its professional officer Lucy Moreton warning that there was no way for passport e-gates to record people's addresses so it would have to be done by other means. 

Ministers today faced questions about why a similar measure had not been put into place earlier, with 15,000 travellers arriving at UK airports every day in April with no screening, including from virus hotspots like China and the USA. 

Piers Morgan tweeted: 'So we're doing this now, three months after the @WHO declared COVID-19 a global health emergency.. after we've let 100s of 1000s fly in from corona-ravaged countries with no checks... & after 55k+ people have already died in the UK? What a sick joke.'

Last month it was revealed that some 15,000 people were flying into the UK without coronavirus tests every day as ministers refused to close down airports even though the country was under lockdown. 

Meanwhile, the travel industry reacted with horror at the news, with one company boss warning it could 'kill it off completely'. Industry group Airlines UK said the arrangement, reported by The Times, would 'effectively end international travel to and from the UK' and cause 'immeasurable damage' to the aviation industry and wider economy. 

Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said the move would have a 'devastating impact' on the aviation industry and the wider economy. Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said she had been asking the government to quarantine travellers 'for weeks' while the head of Cornwall Airport blasted the move as 'too late'. 

The news will have a huge impact on international companies and figures in showbusiness, who face having to choose whether to base themselves at home or abroad. A worker at a leading international bank in London today told MailOnline it would be the 'nail in the coffin' for face-to-face business meetings with overseas contacts as staff will not be able to fly abroad. 

A senior oil executive, who asked to remain anonymous, said the UK would be at a 'serious disadvantage' because of the measures.  

'As the length of time increases that I have not been able to travel then my usefulness to my client starts to diminish,' he said. 'So I will suffer loss of clients if this goes on say more than another three to four months.

'What I was hoping for was to be able to travel within Europe on two to three-day trips, while I waited for longer haul clients countries to open up. Being able to make short trips for re-connect and delicate commercial negotiations is really important.'  

Tourism groups want the measure to be reviewed every week to check its effectiveness, although it is likely to remain in place until early autumn or late summer. 

Countries including Australia, Singapore and New Zealand has already introduced quarantines. France will bring one in on Monday, although travellers from Briton and countries inside the EU's Schengen zone will be exempt. 

The Government had previously resisted a 14-day quarantine for returning travellers, like that introduced by the USA, because it wanted to keep borders open to Britons could return home. The government's chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, has since admitted that the UK has imported people with coronavirus 'from all over the place'. 

The PM will reveal the move in an address to the nation on Sunday. A Home Office spokesman said today: 'We do not comment on leaks. The focus remains on staying at home to protect the NHS and save lives.'

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy told BBC Breakfast: 'It's something that we've been asking ministers to clarify for weeks now.

'I raised it with the minister for the fifth time on Thursday because it's caused real confusion. At the moment we've got a lot of Britons who are still stranded abroad.

'People have been brought back in relatively large numbers and many of them are telling us that they have no information or advice given out about what they should be doing when they get home.

'They travel back from the airport on public transport, they go back to their families and they're worried that they're putting their families and other members of the public at risk, and some of them are coming from parts of the country where we are seeing an increase in infection rates, and so they're really worried about it, the wider public are really worried about it, and for weeks we've had mixed messages being briefed out of government.' 

The aviation industry is calling on the Government to reveal specifics of the proposal amid concerns that the measures could have severe repercussions for the travel and tourism sectors.

Boris Johnson holds a Costa coffee cup as he strolls around St James' Park today alongside other Londoners taking their exercise +18
Boris Johnson holds a Costa coffee cup as he strolls around St James' Park today alongside other Londoners taking their exercise 

Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said the plan would have a 'devastating impact' on the aviation industry and the wider economy.

'If quarantine is a necessary tool for fighting Covid-19, then the Government should act decisively to protect the hundreds of thousands of airport-related and travel-related jobs across the UK,' she added.

Airlines UK called for a 'credible exit plan' to be detailed by the Government, with a support package perhaps including an extension to the job retention scheme and tax reliefs.

'We need to see the detail of what they are proposing,' a statement added. 

Paul Goldstein, co-owner of Kicheche Safari Camp in Kenya, told the Independent:  'The travel industry has been gravely wounded by a coronavirus, and now the government seems determined to kill it off completely.

'Even if the measures are lifted after a week or two, incredible damage will have been done.' 

Meanwhile, the ISU union - which represents borders, immigration and customs staff - called for clarity on the plans, with its professional officer Lucy Moreton warning that there was no way for passport e-gates to record people's addresses. 

Tim Jeans, chairman of Cornwall Airport Newquay, criticised the Government's handling of borders, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'It was possibly inevitable but to say that it's come too late would be something of an understatement.'

He added that 'questioning the management and the planning of this is going to be very much at the forefront today'.

'Now it does look that even though we're potentially past the peak we're going to close our borders and all the plans that airlines and airports had to start restarting operations are now on the scrapheap and will have to go back to square one,' he continued.

'At the moment we've no official confirmation of this new measure but it looks to be that it will delay the reopening of the airport.

'That's the end as far as this summer is concerned and these are just going to add to the difficulties that business and tourism generally faces in the county, and I'm sure elsewhere in the country.'  

Allie Renison, head of Europe and Trade policy at the Institute of Directors said: 'Limiting the further spread of the virus is crucial, but given the severity of this step for businesses and consumers alike, it's important for the government to explain the reasoning behind any change in policy. 

'There are many new questions that need answering on implementation and duration, so it is essential these decisions involve industry every step of the way. 

'Other affected countries are starting to look ahead to strategies for tourism and trade in the short to medium term, and we hope the UK will soon be among them.' 

Other moves to slow the spread of the infection include requiring companies to order employees to wear face coverings at work. Shoppers and passengers on public transport could also be told to wear face coverings, but this is not expected to be mandatory. Clinical face masks would be reserved for medics. 

Plans to allow pupils to return to school as early as June 1 are now in doubt after unions representing teachers and staff insisted they would refuse to work unless there was an effective 'test and trace' regime in place. Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford also said he did not plan to reopen schools as he urged the UK's four nations to 'go forward together'.  

It came as a leading epidemiologist suggested the Government's data was nonsense and that two-thirds of cases were undiagnosed. Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King's College London, said officials' refusal to take into account common symptoms was at fault.   

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