Ministers are being urged to agree a strategy out of tougher travel restrictions as a decision on introducing quarantine hotels for UK arrivals is expected today.
Industry leaders led by the World Travel & Tourism Council warned of dire consequences for the sector.
And Henry Smith, chair of the all-party Future of Aviation Group, urged Boris Johnson to set an exit strategy of mid to late spring after 80 MPs last week backed a call for urgent support for the aviation, travel and tourism sectors.
The WTTC fears the crippling impact of the new proposals being considered by the government would cause “irreparable damage” to a sector which contributes almost £200 billion to the UK economy.
“From airlines to travel agents, travel management companies to holiday companies and beyond, the effect on UK travel businesses would be devastating, further delaying the economic recovery. Even the threat of such action is enough to cause consternation and serious alarm,” WTTC president and chief executive Gloria Guevara said while imploring the government to rethink the introduction of “extreme and sweeping” border measures.
“With the sector in such a fragile state, the introduction of hotel quarantines by the UK government could force the complete collapse of travel and tourism as we know it,” she said. “Consumers would not book business or leisure trips for many months, causing a drastic drop in revenues.
“For a sector that’s built on optimism and confidence in the future – this is not an easy thing for me to admit.
“But the threat posed by the proposed plans to quarantine all travellers arriving into the UK for ten days, in a hotel they will have to pay for, could be unquantifiable.
“Even the threat of such action is enough to cause consternation and serious alarm. But if it were to stretch a significant length of time, the damage could be incalculable.
“It is all so unnecessary – especially when we have measures in place which the government introduced only last week – such as proof of a pre-departure Covid-19 test, followed by short quarantine and another test if necessary,” Guevara said in a comment published by The Telegraph.
“These could stop the virus in its tracks, but still allow the freedom to travel safely,” she argued. “A number of countries, such as Iceland, have successfully implemented a testing regime on arrival, which has curbed the spread, whilst ensuring borders remain open.
“It is crucial these measures are actually given some time to work – and deeply troubling that they are not. For, despite months of forced quarantines post travel, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest they work.
“Even the government’s own figures show quarantines have not proved to be effective in reducing the spread of Covid-19. Community transmission continues to pose a far greater peril than international travel.”
She added: “One essential fact should not be ignored: testing travellers on arrival and departure works.
“This is what we need to focus on, it’s what we need to implement to save the sector and it’s what we need to curb the spread of Covid-19. All of this whilst protecting public health and reviving safe international travel.”
Her comments came as Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee and Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade called for a roadmap out of any new restrictions “as soon as it is safe”.
They said: “The impact of further measures would be catastrophic. They will impact vital freight and PPE supplies and jeopardise tens of thousands of jobs and the many businesses that depend on aviation.
“The government cannot achieve its Global Britain aspirations without airlines and airports.
“The chancellor recognised the need for support given the pandemic’s impact on aviation in March 2020. The time has now come for warm words to be turned into a bespoke support package that can get us through this prolonged crisis.”
The aviation industry leaders pointed to some of the highest levels of travel restrictions imposed by the UK less than two weeks ago.
“Flights today are already banned from countries with high infection rates. Pre-departure controls mean anyone arriving in the UK has already tested negative. There is further quarantine upon arrival and the option of a second test,” they added.
Calls for a ‘roadmap’ were echoed by Richard Slater, managing director of Henbury Travel in Macclesfield, and north west regional director of Abta, who was speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning.
Slater said bringing in quarantine in hotels “would mean really tough times” for travel businesses and said the industry was “keen to do this last March or April” and suffer “some pain [then] for some gain” when the virus was brought under control.
Slater said September 2020 “would have been a good time to act” with tougher border restrictions, but appreciated the current numbers meant “we need to close things down for a short period of time”.
But he said “we need some communication from the government” and called for an indication of when restrictions were likely to be relaxed so that people could book for the future.
Slater also criticised the government for suggesting people shouldn’t book holidays, saying “there’s never any context” around ministers’ comments.
At the government’s Covid-19 briefing on Monday, health secretary Matt Hancock said: “It is incredibly important that we are cautious at the border, and we have changed the rules around travel in the last two weeks to remove those travel corridors.
“The lockdown rules mean that it is illegal to travel abroad unless you have one of the reasonable excuses set out in the legislation [such as travelling for medical treatment].”
Hancock said the current travel restrictions were “just part of the stay-at-home regulations”, adding: “It is important that we protect from new variants should they have vaccine evasion, and it is also reasonable to take a precautionary principal to protecting this country whilst we work on the science and analysis of the different variants that are discovered around the world.”
Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England, said: “Once you have significant infection in the country, actually the proportion of cases which are coming in at your borders is small.
“We need to take really firm action to manage infection both domestically, and any that might come in.
“What is slightly different now is that we’re identifying new variants,” she added, explaining that it was important to keep the chances of importing more cases of the new variant from overseas “until we learn about what the impact might be” including how transmissible it is.
“It is usually when there are low rates where this becomes a really important point,” she said noting that “having very effective test and trace when the rates have gone right down” was important.
Dr Harries said that “we are not there yet”, adding: “When [infection rates] are down, that’s the time to be really harbouring in on the infections.”
Home Office proposals would mean all arrivals into UK airports and ports would be escorted to designated Covid-19 hotels where they would be expected to remain for ten days at their own cost.
They would need to have another negative test before being allowed to leave.
The requirement to isolate in a hotel for 10 days is expected to apply to arrivals from most of southern Africa and South America, as well as Portugal, due to many flights from Brazil operating via Lisbon.
Source – travelweekly.gr