A two-week quarantining on arrivals into the UK “will scar the economy forever”, the boss of easyJet has warned.
Johan Lundgren weighed into the travel industry battle against the 14-day isolation plan from June 8 after announcing a 30% cut in the budget airline’s workforce.
His comments in a column in the Daily Mail came as the newspaper reported that the plans to quarantine travellers coming into the UK from June 8 were falling apart with Border Force and police officials describing the system as “unenforceable”.
Senior government sources were reported as saying that prime minister Boris Johnson was preparing to water down some of the scheme, or even axe it completely.
The latest disclosures follow high-level lobbying by senior travel industry leaders and a group of 40 influential MPs.
A Downing Street source reportedly said: “The quarantine system is a way of protecting the virus coming into the country when we have got domestic levels of transmission down low, but we are of course considering ways in which travel to other countries could be allowed if it is safe to do so.”
A list of countries assessed as “viable” destinations for ‘air bridges’ have been submitted by UK airlines to the Department for Transport and Home Office, including Portugal, Greece, Spain, Italy and Turkey, according to the Daily Telegraph.
The Department for Transport is reported to be working with the industry on new guidelines for “safe” travel which are expected to be finalised within days including face coverings or masks throughout the journey, temperature checks, social distancing in airports and contactless travel including for check-ins and payments.
Lundgren, chief executive of essyJet, described a blanket quarantine as “too blunt an instrument”.
He said: “Our flights will recommence on June 15, and we want to be able to fly as many people as possible to wherever it is safe to do so.
“It was frustrating that the government chose not to consult our industry on the implementation of the quarantine measures.
“Quarantine will severely restrict Britain’s connectivity. It will render many international routes unviable for travellers to the UK.
“British holidaymakers and business travellers will think twice about going abroad if they have to quarantine for 14 days on their return.
“Should the quarantine remain in place throughout the summer, it will have a huge and lasting impact on the recovery of the economy and on all our lives, just as many economists are predicting the most serious recession in a century.”
Many businesses reliant on tourism income will be “permanently scarred” by the impact of the proposed quarantine.
Lundgren added: “The main European tourist markets, such as Greece and Spain, anticipate reopening safely to visitors from July.
“Germany is expected to lift its quarantine, and France is also expected to open up to European visitors.
“Even Italy, which suffered so much from Covid, is looking to facilitate international travel.
“So how can the UK safely reconnect to the rest of the world? Boris Johnson has outlined a sensible way forward: The implementation of ‘air bridges’.
“These would allow for travel between countries where Covid-19 is under control and where effective health measures are in place.
“I support the prime minister’s objective, and believe it is critical for these air bridges to be established quickly wherever it is safe to do so.”
But he urged: “Speed is important. If the government announces an air bridge for a new country from tomorrow, this does not mean we can start flying immediately.
“Anyone hoping to go on their summer holiday in July needs to know what air bridges will be in place.”
He suggested four key steps for the government to take:
- Scrap the quarantine with air bridges arranged instead between countries, such as Greece, where the number of new Covid-19 cases is close to zero.
- Clear criteria for air bridges should be published so that new ones can be put in place as soon as possible.
- The number of air bridges should be maximised, where this is safe.
- Governments should look at the possibility of introducing ‘Covid passports’ identifying passengers who have been infected and are therefore immune. Rapid testing prior to departure or on arrival may help to make this possible.
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