Downing Street has poured cold water on hopes of an ‘air bridge’ to allow British holiday-makers to avoid quarantine on returning from popular European destinations this summer.
In a slapdown for transport secretary Grant Shapps, the prime minister’s official spokesman said the idea was not government policy.
The government is due to announce shortly a 14-day quarantine for anyone arriving in the UK from overseas, with the threat of fines between £1,000 and £10,000 for anyone failing to remain at their designated self-isolation address for the entire period.
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But Mr Shapps raised hopes that Britons would still be able to enjoy a summer getaway abroad by telling the House of Commons on Monday that bilateral “air bridge” agreements might allow passengers from countries with low levels of coronavirus infections to skip quarantine.
At a virtual Westminster media briefing today, Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the idea – which is backed by Heathrow – was “an option under consideration but not agreed government policy”.
The spokesman said Mr Shapps’ comments “speak for themselves”, but added: “The prime minister has said those arriving in the UK from overseas will be required to self-isolate.”
Details of the quarantine scheme, expected to come into force next month, will be published “in due course”, said the spokesman.
Travellers from the Republic of Ireland are expected to be exempted from the scheme, along with truckers bringing freight from France by ferry and Channel Tunnel and scientists and medics involved in the battle against coronavirus.
But No 10 said it was “not aware” of any discussions with Athens about a reciprocal arrangement with Greece to allow Brits to take holidays there without quarantine.
Greek tourism minister Haris Theoharis told the BBC’s Coronavirus Newscast: “If we don’t impose quarantine for people coming to Greece from the UK from someday onward, we would welcome it if the UK extended the same thing.”
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Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye has warned that air travel will remain at low levels as long as the quarantine remains in place and called for a “free flow of passengers” between countries with low risk of transmission.
And Mr Shapps appeared to back the argument in the Commons on Monday, telling MPs: “It is the case that we should indeed 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 that will go beyond what will initially be a blanket situation.”
British Airways has said that it will not increase flights while self-isolation requirements are in place for arrivals, and Virgin Atlantic has said it would take a similar stance.
Michael O’Leary, chief executive of the budget airline Ryanair, said that the policy was “idiotic” and could not be policed, claiming that many people would refuse to follow the lockdown rules.