Ministers are mulling coronavirus ‘air bridges’ to allow travellers to move between countries without the need for quarantine once the outbreak is under control, it was revealed today.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said a ‘blanket’ 14-day quarantine rule for arrivals will be introduced from next month.

But he disclosed that there are ‘active discussions’ going on over what countries could be exempted from the regime in future, referring to the idea of ‘air bridges’ – usually used to refer to military flights over enemy territory. 

Countries with lower infection levels, such as Australia, New Zeland and Greece, could potentially be excluded from the tough rules, which will be enforced by law. 

Earlier, Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary launched a savage attack on the government’s plans for 14-day quarantine on arrivals to the UK.

The new rules are set dash hopes of summer holidays for most of the summer, as exemptions are largely limited to lorry drivers.

However, Mr O’Leary dismissed claims it will prevent his aim of resuming flights in July, saying he believes the policy is so ‘defective’ and impossible to enforce that the public will merely ignore it.

He insisted the government is ‘making stuff up as they go along’ and face masks are the best way to protect the travelling public – despite many scientists saying they are of limited benefit.   

In the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis: 

People should self-isolate if they lose their sense of taste or smell because it is a definite symptom of coronavirus, the government has announced today.

Anosmia, the clinical name for a change in smell or taste sense, has become the third symptom of the coronavirus that will be officially recognised by the NHS.

Until now, people were only advised that they might have the virus if they had a fever or a new continuous cough.

But scientists working for the government have now decided there is enough evidence to add anosmia to the list.

Prof Tim Spector, head of the department of genetic epidemiology and leader of the Covid symptom study app at King’s College London, said 50,000 to 70,000 people in the UK with Covid-19 were currently not being told to self-isolate even though they had the virus.

He blamed Public Health England (PHE) and the wider strategy, saying an insistence that only fever and cough were the major symptoms was missing thousands of cases.

Until now, the NHS 111 coronavirus symptom checker has listed high temperature and cough as the symptoms of Covid-19.

Prof Van-Tam said on April 3 that the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) had looked at the issue and concluded loss of smell or taste should not be added to the symptom list.

But in the same month, ENT UK, the professional membership body representing ear, nose and throat surgery in the UK, published guidance to patients saying it believed loss of smell and loss of taste were symptoms of coronavirus and that it had shared these details with PHE.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) listed loss of smell and taste as ‘less common symptoms’ several weeks ago and other countries, including the US, added the symptom.

Mr Shapps has insisted quarantine measures from early June will be a ‘blanket situation’ for other countries initially but could be then eased for those with low Covid-19 infection rates.

Huw Merriman, Conservative chairman of the Transport Committee, asked in the Commons: ‘If he will consider air bridges so that those entering the UK from countries where the infection rate is below the rate of one would not be subject to quarantine?

‘This will boost confidence in aviation travel and target safety where it’s most needed.’

Mr Shapps replied: ‘Final details of the quarantine scheme will be released soon, come in early next month.

‘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.

‘So, those are active discussions but will go beyond what will initially be a blanket situation.’ 

It is understood that hauliers will make up two thirds of those not required to self-isolate for two weeks. 

The rest are expected to include people who ‘work supporting national security or critical infrastructure and to meet the UK’s international obligations’, officials said. 

Scientists researching coronavirus may also be exempt. Last week Downing Street denied that travellers from France would be excluded, despite previously suggesting that was an option. 

Ireland will not be covered by the rules due to the Common Travel Area’s role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

But Mr O’Leary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the plans are ‘unimplementable, unmanageable and unpoliceable’. 

‘People will simply ignore something that is so hopelessly defective… Let’s have some effective measures like face masks,’ he said. 

‘All you get back out of the UK government is ”we don’t know”.’ 

‘It’s laughable that this government can come up with any plans for a quarantine that would be strict and fully enforced… 

‘It’s idiotic and it’s un-implementable. You don’t have enough police in the UK.’

He added: ‘Two-week lockdown has no medical or scientific basis to it in any event. If you want to do something that’s effective, wear masks.’ 

Mr O’Leary said the policy had ‘no credibility’ and predicted that it would be axed by June.  

An ‘air bridge’ is typically used by the military to reach and supply territory across enemy lines.

One of the largest in history was used for the Berlin airlift after the Second World War.

That kept the Western-held area supplied between June 1948 and May 1949 when it was cut off by Soviet forces. 

Another famous air bridge was ‘The Hump’, which was the route over the Himalayas from India to resupply Chinese forces working with the Allies. 

He insisted research had suggested face masks could reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection by 98.5 per cent.

He told Sky News the government is ‘making stuff up as they go along’. 

‘I think they are frankly just making stuff up as they go along,’ he said. ‘They are stumbling along grabbing whatever they think will make a headline.

There is no scientific or medical basis for a 14-day isolation for air passengers when you are not applying that equally to London Underground or London commuter train passengers.’ 

Virgin Atlantic appeared to back Mr O’Leary’s comments and called for a ‘multi-layered approach’ of targeted measures to successfully restart flights.

The statement released today said: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a devasting loss of life and livelihood for so many around the world and the UK. 

‘The safety and security of our people and our customers is our always our top priority and public health must come first. However, by introducing a mandatory 14 day self-isolation for every single traveller entering the UK, the Government is taking an approach that will likely prevent flights from resuming. 

‘We are continually reviewing our flying programme, however with these restrictions, there simply won’t be sufficient demand to warrant flying and we are unlikely to resume passenger services before August at the earliest.

‘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 measures, which will allow for a successful restart of international air travel for passengers and businesses, while mitigating health risks.’ 

The Association of UK Airlines, the trade body for the industry added that if the government does push ahead with the 14-day quarantine plan then  strict rolling reviews need to be in place.

Ministers must order councils to reopen public toilets and car parks and stop ‘terrorising’ those who want to visit beauty spots, a government adviser said today.

Professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, said the risk outdoors was ‘minimal’ and people did not need to be so anxious.

The government eased draconian limits on exercise last week, with Boris Johnson saying the public is free to drive distances and enjoy public spaces as many times a day as they want. 

However, tourist boards have joined local authorities in saying visitors should stay away from beauty spots and seaside resorts.

Weston-super-Mare has changed its slogan from ‘Visit Weston’ to ‘Don’t Visit Weston’

A spokesman said: ‘Airlines are not going to operate if people are effectively told not to travel and that is going to do a lot of damage both to our tourism industry and businesses who rely on aviation for their supply chains and exports.

‘If the Government does insist on doing this, with minimal exemptions in place, we need strict rolling reviews to be enforced so that this policy is not in place a second longer than it needs to be.’

Mr Dowden said quarantine rules for people travelling to the UK will be enforced by law.

He told Today: ‘We would look at the relevant enforcement mechanisms just as we have done with other measures.

‘So for example, the measures that we took when we introduced the so-called lockdown – those were underpinned by regulations which had consequences in law, and I’m sure we’ll do the same thing.’

He said there would be ‘very limited’ exemptions to the rules.

John Holland-Kaye, the boss of Heathrow, raised hopes of looser rules yesterday, telling Sky News: ‘If two countries are at very low risk of having transmission within each country, there should be a free flow of passengers. 

‘But if a country has very high risk with rising infection rates and poor controls, then there would be very tight controls on anyone accessing the UK from those markets. 

Meanwhile, a government adviser has urged ministers to make councils reopen public toilets and car parks, and stop ‘terrorising’ those who want to visit beauty spots.

Professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, said the risk outdoors was ‘minimal’ and people did not need to be so anxious.

The government eased draconian limits on exercise last week, with Boris Johnson saying the public is free to drive distances and enjoy public spaces as many times a day as they want. 

However, tourist boards have joined local authorities in saying visitors should stay away from beauty spots and seaside resorts.

Weston-super-Mare has changed its slogan from ‘Visit Weston’ to ‘Don’t Visit Weston’

Tubes ‘miss Sadiq Khan’s 75% target and only hit 50%’ as commuters wait up to 15 minutes for rush hour services after 30 drivers refuse to work 

Sadiq Khan has claimed that Tube services would hit 75 per cent of pre-lockdown levels from today – but the true figure may have been closer to 50 per cent because of a lack of drivers, industry sources have told MailOnline.

Commuters also questioned the Mayor of London’s figures as they still had to wait long periods for trains on packed platforms where social distancing was impossible during rush hour.

The Aslef union today revealed that more London Underground trains could have been running today but some drivers were sent home after they raised concerns about ‘health and safety’. While the RMT Union also shared CCTV images of packed trains during rush hour this morning where most people were not wearing masks.

Tens of thousands more Britons are heading back into work today but gaps between trains in the capital were still up to 15 minutes with critics demanding to know why the Mayor of London is not running a full service now common in European capital cities such as Berlin.

Transport for London, which is run by Mayor Khan, said today that Tube services would be back at 75%, DLR and London Overground at 80% and buses at 85% of pre-lockdown capacity as Boris Johnson encouraged as many people as possible to return to work.

But as the morning peak ended a senior Tube source told MailOnline: ‘That might be the aim but in reality, across the entire Tube network, it was about 50 per cent of service.’ At least 30 Tube train drivers refused to work on Health and Safety grounds saying not enough had been done to protect both them and passengers from the virus, the insider said. MailOnline has asked Transport for London to comment.

ASLEF chief Finn Brennan also tweeted: ‘Bizarre situation this morning where Underground managers are sending home drivers who raise H&S [health and safety] concerns..meaning fewer drivers fewer trains!’ He added: ‘It’s disappointing and worrying that so many people are still using the tube without face covering this morning. They are risking the safety of staff and other passengers’.

There was also confusion growing over whether commuters should wear masks and it was revealed that stations will be shut if they get too busy with security teams brought in to manage crowds.

Sadiq Khan has said that people catching the Tube or bus should cover their faces but in contrast Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, said that face coverings are not mandatory on mainline trains with commuters claiming ‘hardly anyone’ is wearing them.

Sir Peter said: ‘We are relying on people to be sensible. We want people to stay apart if they humanly can and if they can’t, then a face covering is a quite sensible thing to do for the brief moments when you might be getting on or off a train or moving through a station’. He added: ‘We have processes to close stations if they become too full’.

Roads also appeared busier today as Sadiq Khan brought back the congestion charge two weeks early – before the price rises from £11.50 to £15 next month and is imposed on weekends for the first time.

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