Would-be holidaymakers’ hopes of trips abroad this year have been boosted by proposals to exempt Britons who travel to countries with low coronavirus infection rates from strict new quarantine rules.
The plan to form so-called “air bridges” between the UK and lower-risk countries was floated by senior Tory MP Huw Merriman and has won the backing of Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
The proposal comes a week after Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that it was “unlikely that big, lavish international holidays are going to be possible for this summer”, as a result of a “blanket” 14-day quarantine for arrivals to the UK that is due to be introduced from next month.
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However, Shapps has now signalled that “those returning from countries where air bridge agreements have been secured may avoid” the new rules, Sky News says.
“It is the case we should consider further improvements - for example, things like air bridges enabling people from other countries who have themselves achieved lower levels of coronavirus infection to come to the country,” Shapps told the House of Commons on Monday.
His “comments will raise hopes that overseas travel, including summer holidays, may still be a possibility this year”, says The Times, which reports that “the strict quarantine could be relaxed by the end of next month at the earliest”.
So far, only Greece has put itself forward as a country that would be willing to form an air bridge with the UK. Greece’s Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis told the BBC that if the UK waived isolation for Greeks when they arrive in Britain, his country would do the same for Britons travelling there.
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Shapps has said that “active discussions” are taking place about which other countries with lower infection rates, such Australia and New Zealand, might be added to the exempt list.
The proposed air bridges - a term “usually used to refer to military flights over enemy territory”, notes the Daily Mail - have been welcomed by airlines, amid fears that “people would be put off flying” if they have to self-isolate afterwards, says the BBC.
Ministers are reportedly considering five-figure fines for people caught breaking the quarantine rules.
A spokesperson for trade body Airlines UK said: “Airlines are not going to operate if people are effectively told not to travel.”
The UK tourism industry has warned that the regulations will send out a “hugely concerning” message that Britain is “not open to tourists”, says the Financial Times.
Kate Nicholls, head of UKHospitality, told the newspaper that the quarantine rules would put a “question mark” over the sustainability of British tourism businesses.
Meanwhile, Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has described the quarantine plan as “idiotic”, adding that it had “no credibility” and would be gone by June.
“It’s un-implementable. You don’t have enough police in the UK,” he told BBC’s Today programme this week.
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