As several European air carriers launch their initial post-COVID-19 lockdown services, there are still uncertainties for travellers as countries establish and revise their quarantine.
The UK Government will enforce a two-week quarantine period for travellers arriving in the UK from June 8. Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said on May 22 the move was necessary to “keep the transmission rate down and prevent a devastating second wave’’ of infections. Passengers of all nationalities arriving in the UK by aircraft, ship or train, will have to provide the address of where they will remain for 14 days. Failure to complete the arrival documentation will attract a £100 fine, while those self-isolating in England could face a £1,000 penalty if they breach the 14-day quarantine. At the time of writing, the devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had yet to announce the penalties they may impose.
Arriving passengers will need to drive their own vehicles to their destination – they cannot use public transport for 14 days – and anyone who is unable to provide an address will have to stay in government-arranged accommodation. The UK rules also stipulate that arriving travellers must not go to work, school or public areas. They can only have visitors if they are providing “essential support” and should not leave their accommodation go shopping – including for food – when they are able to rely on others. The measures will be reviewed every three weeks to check if they are “effective and necessary”.
The only exceptions to the rules are: road haulage and freight workers; medical officials who are travelling to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic; seasonal agricultural workers who self-isolate at the property where they are employed and anyone arriving from the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. The Government had previously said that the restrictions would not apply to travellers arriving from France, but that idea has been dropped and the French authorities has also introduced a reciprocal quarantine measure.
The UK Government is still considering the possibility of introducing so-called “air bridges” which may allow unrestricted travel between countries with low coronavirus levels.
We are disappointed that the Government has decided to go ahead with a simplistic, blanket approach to quarantining
Karen Dee, Airport Operators Association
As this edition went to press, from a UK travellers’ perspective, quarantine rules still apply in Australia, Canada, the UAE, New Zealand, Spain and Greece, but the latter two nations have announced theirs will end to date, Spain’s relaxation currently only applies to EU travellers and it is not yet clear if it will apply to UK citizens. The Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has said only tourists from countries with acceptably low rates of COVID-19 infection would be permitted, but no countries have yet been named. Up until May 15, all travellers arriving in Germany were required to undertake a 14-day quarantine but, since then, all arrivals from the EU, UK and Schengen Area have been exempt.
Italy, which had one of the first and most stringent quarantines, announced it was cancelling its 14-day requirement from June 3. The United States still has only 13 airports accepting international flights.
Reacting to the UK government’s quarantine announcement, the Airport Operators Association CEO, Karen Dee, said: “We are disappointed that the Government has decided to go ahead with a simplistic, blanket approach to quarantining all arrivals, without any consultation with industry. This threatens to have very serious economic and social consequences, not just in aviation but in all sectors relying on aviation connectivity, without resulting in notably better public health outcomes than a more targeted approach. This must be reviewed more frequently than every three weeks.
“Airlines will be reluctant to fly if there is limited to no demand as a result of quarantine restrictions, hampering the travel of those key workers who have now been exempted.
“As our neighbours and key trading partners move towards a science-led, risk-based approach, the UK should do so as soon as possible, or risk being left behind. “Industry proposals such as air bridges would facilitate travel from low-risk countries and protect the public from high-risk arrivals. This would enable the restart of aviation and support the UK’s economic recovery. Crucially, this also would give us time to get a testing regime in place for arriving passengers like Greece, Iceland and other countries are doing, as the next step to returning to a new normal.
“In the meantime, the Chancellor [of the Exchequer] needs to provide further financial and business support to airports and travel operators to help the industry get through this prolonged period with limited to no revenue, and ensure the sector is ready to restart in support of the UK economic recovery.”
Charlie Cornish, group CEO, MAG, said: “For as long as it lasts, a blanket quarantine policy will be a brick wall to the recovery of the UK aviation and tourism industries, with huge consequences for UK jobs and GDP.
“By enabling people to travel between the UK and low-risk countries, the aviation industry can help lead the UK economy out of this crisis, just as it has in previous recessions. But for this to happen, the government must work quickly to create a smart and targeted approach that recognises that many countries are already low risk.
“European countries are starting to open up, and some that are popular with British holidaymakers want to agree two-way arrangements with the UK to enable travel. Government has to take a risk-based approach to quarantine arrangements to enable air travel to restart and to allow British people to enjoy well-earned holidays in safe countries. At the same time this would help kick start UK tourism and hospitality industries, saving businesses and jobs.
“A blanket quarantine will seriously jeopardise the long-term future of the sector and put tens of thousands of jobs, and billions of pounds of economic value, at risk.”
Dale Keller, CEO of the Board of Airline Representatives (BAR) UK, added: “The government needs to urgently bring forward plans to lift blanket travel restrictions through alternative risk-based measures that will enable airlines to restart safe and low-risk international travel. The restart and recovery of aviation is intrinsic to reviving the UK economy and only through implementing more targeted and internationally aligned measures can the UK reconnect to its global markets.”
IATA had already urged governments to find alternatives to maintaining or introducing arrival quarantine measures as part of post-pandemic travel restrictions before the UK’s announcement.
Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, said the UK’s quarantine policy had “no credibility” while the representative body Airlines UK, said the move “would effectively kill off air travel”. Many others have questioned why a UK quarantine is necessary now, when none was enforced earlier in the crisis.