British aviation queries flu quarantine as economically ruinous

BRITISH aviation executives question the scientific basis for the 14-day quarantine demanded of those arriving by air, reports the UK Guardian

15 May 2020 - 12:13

BRITISH aviation executives question the scientific basis for the 14-day quarantine demanded of those arriving by air, reports the UK Guardian.

In a letter to authorities, signed by the chief executives of easyJet, Heathrow and Gatwick airports, the industry voiced 'collective and serious concern and frustration' and demanded a meeting with the prime minister.

'An open-ended quarantine, with no set end date, will make an already critical situation for UK aviation, and all the businesses we support, even worse,' the bosses wrote.

'People will simply choose not to travel to and from the UK, at the same time as economies in Europe and around the world begin opening up their borders and removing their own quarantines, making the UK aviation sector unable to compete,' the letter said.'In short, passenger travel cannot restart, and clarity from government is needed as to whether such an outcome is the intention or expectation of this measure, which was announced without any pre-consultation with the sector.'

The letter was sent after the government published a 50-page document outlining its Covid-19 recovery strategy. The plan includes a 14-day quarantine on new arrivals to the country

But there was no detail on when the new regime would begin or end. People landing in the UK will have to provide contact and accommodation details and agree to self-isolate for two weeks.

International travellers will be required to stay in state-arranged accommodation if they cannot show where they plan to self-isolate. People arriving from the Republic of Ireland and France will be exempted from this. The sector is still hoping for some form of bailout to help it survive the crisis.

Asked about support for the sector in parliament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pointed to schemes designed to support businesses more broadly but offered no hints at an aviation-specific package.

'We will do everything we can to keep Britain flying and get Britain flying again,' he said.

In their letter, aviation executives requested an urgent meeting with the prime minister to discuss quarantine proposals and asked him to outline 'as a matter of urgency' how the government would support the sector.

They questioned what scientific advice was behind the quarantine plan, and whether it was enforceable, and pointed out that France, which appears to be excluded from the quarantine requirement, allows in passengers from the EU.

They said any quarantine should be 'as limited and short in duration as possible, kept under permanent review and applied only in the absence of workable, evidence-led and risk-based alternatives.'

International Airlines Group (IAG) chief executive Willie Walsh said the plan would force the group to review plans to restart operations in July, with the number of flights likely to be 'pretty minimal' instead.

Last week IAG said BA and its other airlines - Aer Lingus, Iberia and Vueling - intended to run about 1,000 flights a day between July and September, a significant increase from April and May.

But Mr Walsh said the quarantine would make the prospects of a recovery in air traffic more difficult. The crisis has already led to planned jobs cuts, including 12,000 at BA with thousands more expected at IAG's other airlines.

Said Heathrow Airport CEO John Holland-Kaye: 'The government needs to urgently lay out a roadmap for how they will reopen borders once the disease has been beaten, and to take an immediate lead in agreeing a common international standard for health in aviation that will allow passengers who don't have the infection to travel freely.'

Heathrow traffic fell 97 per cent in April compared with the same month last year, with UK nationals banned from all but essential travel and borders closed in many countries across the world. The few flights that have landed have mainly been repatriation services to bring home Britons trapped abroad.

Gatwick Airport said the government must give 'a clear, time bound exit strategy from quarantine' and review the policy on a weekly basis. 'This proposal risks decimating air travel and severely curtailing the ability for the economy to recover,' it said.

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