Matt Hancock hints at cabinet strife over air bridge plans
‘I’m not going to step on my colleagues’ toes, no matter how tempting it is’: Health Secretary Matt Hancock hints at cabinet strife over air bridge plans after Priti Patel POSTPONES publishing tourist quarantine details
- The air bridges plan will allow people to travel between UK and certain nations
- It is expected to be put in place from June 29, boosting summer holiday hopes
- However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock hinted at cabinet friction over plans
- From Monday, anyone arriving in Britain will have to self-isolate for a fortnight
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has hinted at cabinet strife over plans to introduce ‘air bridges’ between the UK and countries with low coronavirus infection rates.
From Monday, people coming into the UK from abroad will have to quarantine for 14 days to stop the spread of coronavirus.
However, that policy could be replaced by the air bridge plan by the end of the month.
Under that plan, agreements between Britain and countries with low infection rates would allow people from those nations to visit the UK without self-isolating.
Today, Home Secretary Priti Patel delayed unveiling the government’s new quarantine and travel plans as MPs and tourism bosses demanded they be thrown out.
And asked about the government’s policy in the evening Downing Street press briefing, Mr Hancock hinted at friction within the cabinet: ‘This air bridge idea has been floated.
‘I know there has been a lot of discussion about it and I know that some countries have been mentioned in the media but that is a piece of work that is being done by the Home office and the DfT and I’m not going to tread on the toes of my colleagues no matter how tempting it is.’
The Health Secretary also said that all measures taken by the government, including those related to travellers, were taken with people’s safety as the key consideration.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock hinted at friction within the cabinet over the government’s travel plans
Home Secretary Priti Patel delayed unveiling the government’s new quarantine and travel plans today as MPs and tourism bosses demanded they be thrown out
From Monday, people coming into the UK from abroad will have to quarantine for 14 days to stop the spread of coronavirus
Details of the quarantine scheme, which is due to come into force on Monday June 8 were expected to be revealed to MPs today.
But Downing Street has confirmed that Ms Priti Patel is now expected to unveil them tomorrow, fuelling suggestions that some sort of compromise could be on the cards.
It came as Boris Johnson was told to drops the plans to force visitors and returning British nationals to self-isolate for 14 days to avoid a ‘catastrophic’ hammer blow to the tourism and hospitality industries.
Some 124 chief executive and owners of businesses worth a combined £5billion said today they expect to make up to 60 per cent of their staff redundant if the scheme goes ahead.
The Prime Minister is believed to be backing air bridges to low-infection countries as the government scrambles to head off a huge Tory revolt.
MPs have also branded the curbs ‘ridiculous’ and ‘pointless’ after it emerged people will be allowed to pop out for food, only a fifth face spot checks, and officials will not be allowed to enter their homes.
The new quarantine rules will allow people subject to the 14-day restrictions to leave their place of isolation for a number of reasons, including shopping for food.
Travellers will also be able to board public transport from the port or airport to where they will quarantine, although they will be encouraged to use private vehicles instead.
But the rules will only be in place for an initial three weeks, with the first review on June 29.
Campaigner George Morgan-Grenville, the chief executive of tour operator Red Savannah, said: ‘By pursuing its quarantine plans without due regard for the economic consequences, the Government is choosing to ignore the devastation it will cause to companies, to employment and to the lives of all those whose jobs will be lost.
‘The quarantine measures are a blunt weapon which will bring only economic disaster.’
Just 23 people used Gatwick Airport in an entire day last week – down from its pre-covid average of 45,000
A Government spokesman said: ‘Our priority will always be to protect the public’s health and these new measures are being introduced to do exactly this. We have received clear science advice and the quarantine system is designed to keep the transmission rate down, stop new cases being brought in from abroad and help prevent a devastating second wave of coronavirus.
‘We are supporting businesses in the tourism sector through one of the most generous economic packages provided anywhere in the world and we will continue to look at options to increase international travel, when it is safe to do so, as we move forward.’
The detail of the proposals is expected to be laid in Parliament by Home Secretary Priti Patel later, although there might well not be a vote.
How UK coronavirus cases compare to 15 popular holiday destinations for Britons
Tourism bosses and MPs have discussed air bridges to popular tourist destinations and countries who send large numbers of tourist to the UK.
Here is how the UK’s coronavoirus cases compare to popular nations. The figures are the daily confirmed cases of coronavirus per million people for each country, as of June 1.
UK – 28.52
SPAIN – 4.30
FRANCE – 3.94
ITALY – 5.87
USA – 59.84
GREECE – 0.19
PORTUGAL – 29.13
NETHERLANDS – 10.80
TURKEY – 9.85
IRELAND – 12.35
GERMANY – 3.98
BELGIUM – 16.82
MEXICO – 24.45
MOROCCO – 0.73
AUSTRALIA – 0.39
NEW ZEALAND – 0
The rules are due to take effect on Monday, but a there are growing signs the measures will be scaled back again when they are reviewed in three weeks.
The air bridges plan, championed by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, could see restrictions eased on countries like Australia and Greece with low levels of coronavirus. It offers some hopes of summer holidays for Britons as the nation struggles to get back to normal after months of lockdown.
Ministers are expected to use a five-point assessment to judge which countries could be prioritised for the agreements.
The criteria could include the economic and cultural ties to the UK, the infection rate and the level of health screening at departure airports.
A country’s R rate of infection is likely to be the key factor in whether an air bridge agreement is considered.
The news comes as MPs urged the government to rethink the 14-day quarantine to avoid killing off the airline industry.
Tory MP Henry Smith, whose Crawley constituency covers Gatwick, said low passengers at the airport last week highlighted the scale of the problem.
He said: ‘It’s well-intentioned but it hasn’t been thought through.
‘It sounds good, to stop people at the borders so we don’t get re-infections of Covid-19. But I don’t think it is going to be a benefit to public health and will prolong the economic damage.’
Travel industry experts say quarantine, will cost Britain’s tourism sector as much as £15billion if it is maintained throughout the summer.
Under the plans, people arriving in the UK from Britain, including citizens returning from abroad, will have to self-isolate for two weeks.
There are exemptions for groups including lorry drivers, health workers and scientists.
Spot checks will be carried out on addresses and fines of £1,000 could be imposed on people breaking the rules.
EasyJet says it will resume flights to almost 75% of its network by August
EasyJet has announced it will resume flying to almost three-quarters of its route network by August.
The airline is also launching what it claims is its ‘biggest ever summer sale’ with over one million flights to holiday destinations across Europe on offer from £29.99 for travel between July 1 and October 31, 2020.
Onboard, all passengers and crew will be required to wear face masks.
EasyJet said it plans to fly 50 per cent of its 1,022 routes in July and 75 per cent in August, although flight frequency will be much lower, equating to around 30 per cent of normal July to September capacity.
This will include flying to and from its UK bases across July and August to a selection of destinations for summer holidays.
The airline said that although there will be fewer flights on offer, ‘customers will have the choice of flights to domestic, city and beach destinations’.
These include cities such as Paris, Milan and Rome; ‘summer sun favourites’ the Balearics and Canary Islands; ‘lively and culturally rich hotspots’ in Italy, Croatia and Portugal and ‘even further afield to exotic destinations, Egypt and Morocco’.
The airline has confirmed that some flights will initially resume from June 15 including those from London Gatwick, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Belfast in the UK.
But according to the Guardian, only a fifth of arrivals will be subject to spot checks.
People will be able to give more than one address where they will be self-isolating – and will also be allowed to go out to buy food – including for pets – or medicine.
‘To get caught, you will either have to be unlucky or stupid,’ one source said.
Like the wider lockdown measures, the plans will be reviewed every three weeks.
Former transport minister Stephen Hammond asked what the point of the quarantine was when it could be dodged relatively easily.
The Tory MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that air bridges would be a ‘sensible, targeted response’ between low-risk countries.
‘I think the idea of air bridges are the right way forward,’ he added.
‘I think, as we’ve seen across the world, people are taking measures out of the lockdown and this targeted approach would be a much more sensible way to behave.’
The air bridges idea was first floated by Mr Shapps last month, before being played down by No10 sources.
However, sources told the Telegraph that Mr Johnson is now ‘personally in favour’ of the plan.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, is thought to remain sceptical.
Travel companies are offering up to 65 per cent off summer holidays – but tourism experts are warning Britons the trips may not end up going ahead.
The bargain packages are being advertised on booking sites for as early as July in a bid to salvage the season.
It came as last night the holiday dreams of millions of Britons were given a boost after Portugal and Greece said they were ready to welcome back UK tourists within days.
Tui, Britain’s biggest tour operator, is cutting three nights all-inclusive at the TUI SUNEO Odessos in Bulgaria on July 10 from £543 per person to £296. And a seven-night trip to Gran Canaria on July 6 has been slashed from £606 to £394.
Travel Zoo is offering two nights in Paris in September for £79 – up to 64 per cent cheaper than usual.
And easyJet Holidays is selling a week-long stay at Anseli Hotel in Rhodes from July 8 for £195 with flights and transfers.
But experts have warned desperate Britons to hold off booking for now.
The Foreign Office still advises against all but essential travel and there will be a two-week quarantine for returning holidaymakers from June 8.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: ‘If consumers are keen to book something now they should go into it with their eyes open.
‘If the FCO advice is still in place when their holiday is due to take place, they will get a refund, but there’s a good chance they will be waiting a long time.
‘Holiday providers need to make it clear to their customers that these holidays may not take place.’
The UK quarantine will be reviewed every three weeks. TUI spokesman Liz Edwards said they hope it will be lifted on June 29 in time for summer trips.
She added: ‘We believe we will be having summer holidays this year, hopefully from July. We hope the quarantine will be lifted, but air bridges are certainly a possibility.
‘Bookings have been really picking up. Spain, Greece, Cyprus are likely to open up first. The Canaries and Balearics are keen to welcome back tourists.’
Airlines are also heavily discounting flights. A Heathrow to Cancun return with Air France in September, which usually sells for around £800, is being advertised for £312.
And return flights from Manchester to Reykjavik with easyJet in November are being sold for £41 (usually £150 plus), and Manchester to Dubrovnik with Jet2 from £30 one-way in late June (usually around £120).
Emma Coulthurst, from TravelSupermarket, said: ‘The 14-day quarantine measure makes holidays pretty impractical, although I have heard of some people willing to do it to get a holiday. There is a risk booking now as there is no guarantee the holiday will go ahead.’
Research by TUI revealed the most popular destinations for trips this year are Spain, Greece and Italy followed by Florida and the Caribbean.
And those hoping to go to Greece or Portugal this summer could still get the chance.
Officials in Lisbon believe Britain has coronavirus ‘under control’ and want quarantine-free travel between the two countries to restart from this Saturday.
Greece’s tourism minister Harry Theocharis told the Mail the epidemic was moving ‘in the right direction’ in the UK and restrictions could be dropped for Britons from June 15.
The interventions increased pressure on Downing Street to re-think its plan for a ‘blanket’ 14-day quarantine amid a growing backlash from MPs at being denied a vote on the measures.
Ms Patel will today introduce the regulations in Parliament to come into effect from next Monday.
But they will be brought as a statutory instrument, which does not automatically go to a vote. Tory MPs are expecting the government to give a strong signal on air bridges to head off an outright rebellion.
Under the plans, anyone entering the country by plane, train or boat will have to go into quarantine for two weeks.
This will apply to foreign tourists as well as Britons returning from abroad.
However, some people, including medical professionals and lorry drivers, will be exempt.
MPs among a cross-party group of at least 40 who are critical of the plans last night voiced their fury.
They want the Government to leave open the option of creating ‘air bridges’ – which would allow tourists between two countries to visit without needing to quarantine – to salvage as much of the summer holiday season as possible and help keep the hard-hit tourism industry afloat.
They say, instead of quarantine, arrivals to the UK could be subject to health checks or testing.
Industry chiefs say millions of Britons are desperate for a foreign getaway, but the blanket quarantine policy has all but cancelled summer holidays.
Former Cabinet minister David Davis said: ‘Parliament should be properly involved and quite plainly it is not. In this particular case, its very blanket policy could reasonably be amended in a number of ways.
‘For example, our death rate is many, many times than that in Greece. So the idea of quarantining someone coming from Greece who would have a much lower risk of suffering from the disease than someone anywhere else in Britain is plainly not supported by any sort of science.
‘The idea of putting in air bridges might be a sensible amendment.’
Former environment secretary Theresa Villiers said: ‘I would very much prefer the quarantine rules be targeted on flights from Covid hotspots.
‘I appreciate why the Government is bringing in quarantine but I do think that applying it in a blanket way across the board is an over-reaction.’
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said: ‘I hope the Government will move swiftly to introduce air bridges and also to introduce a testing regime at airports as quickly as possible.’
Downing Street last night insisted it still intended to push ahead with the policy.
It has stressed quarantine will be reviewed every three weeks and has left open the possibility of striking air bridge deals in future.
But the first review period would not be until June 29.
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