Airline chiefs say 14-day quarantine for travellers will 'kill off' aviation

22 May 2020, 06:03

The boss of Heathrow warned over plans to quarantine passengers
The boss of Heathrow warned over plans to quarantine passengers. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Travellers to the UK could face spot checks and £1,000 fines if they refuse to self-isolate for 14 days after arriving in the UK under new rules to protect against coronavirus.

MPs will be asked to support proposed coronavirus quarantine measures for all arrivals to the country which will give police the power to carry out spot checks at homes and impose £1,000 fines.

The Government is set to unveil its plans on Friday with Home Secretary Priti Patel expected to use the daily Downing Street press conference to announce all arrivals, including returning Britons, will have to provide an accommodation address where they will self-isolate for 14 days.

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But airline chiefs have hit out at the plans. The boss of Heathrow airport, John Holland-Kaye said today that the proposals will "kill off"aviation for as long as they are in place.

A spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic said: "By introducing a mandatory 14-day self-isolation for every single traveller entering the UK, the Government's approach will prevent flights from resuming."

The airline said with proposed restrictions there "simply won't be sufficient demand to resume passenger services before August at the earliest."

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They added: "We know that as the Covid-19 crisis subsides, air travel will be a vital enabler of the UK's economic recovery.

"Therefore, we are calling for a multi-layered approach of carefully targeted public health and screening measures, which will allow for a successful and safe restart of international air travel for passengers and businesses."

Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said there were also questions about people in certain jobs being exempt from the scheme.

She told the Commons Home Affairs Committee : "Of course an airline is not going to fly a flight if there are only one or two people who are exempted who will be coming in.

"That's why we are concerned about the way that this will operate in that it may simply lead to a prolonged shutdown of all aviation."

She said there had been no "specific discussions" with Government yet on how a quarantine would be implemented, adding: "We don't have the detail, what we have said to Government is that you need that information and that process to take place as early as possible."

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The Telegraph reported that under the plans Border Force, police and Public Health England (PHE) officers will run and enforce the quarantine where travellers will face spot checks at the addresses they submit on forms on arrival at airports or ports. It is expected there will be about 100 spot checks a day.

Exemptions for road hauliers and medical officials will apply, while the common travel area with Ireland will be unaffected. Arrivals from France will not be exempt, the official confirmed, following confusion earlier this week.

The regulations, which are expected to be introduced under the Health Protection Act, will not come into force before June and could face opposition from politicians due to the timing of the announcement.

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The move will anger some sectors, with Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary earlier this week branding the plan "idiotic" and "unimplementable", while trade body Airlines UK has previously said a quarantine "would effectively kill" international travel to and from Britain.

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It comes after Boris Johnson performed a U-turn to exempt overseas health and care staff from the fee levied on migrants to pay for the NHS following mounting pressure from senior Tories.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister has asked officials at the Home Office and the Department for Health and Social Care to remove health and care workers from the surcharge "as soon as possible".

Full details will be announced in the coming days, a Number 10 spokesman said.

Mr Johnson "has been thinking about this a great deal" and as a "personal beneficiary of carers from abroad" he understands the difficulties faced by our amazing NHS staff, the spokesman said.

"The purpose of the NHS surcharge is to benefit the NHS, help to care for the sick and save lives.

"NHS and care workers from abroad who are granted visas are doing this already by the fantastic contribution which they make."

The £400 surcharge remains in place for other categories of visa applicants and will increase to £624 in October, as planned.

The change will apply to all NHS workers, ranging from medical health staff to vital porters and cleaners.

It also includes independent health workers and social care workers.

The U-turn comes after senior Tories demanded change, with former party chairman Lord Patten calling it "appalling" and "monstrous".