Grant Shapps plan for ‘air bridges’ for holidaymakers to fly on holiday hit by Cabinet backlash
Only two days earlier, Grant Shapps came up with the suggestion that flights might be resumed, without a requirement for quarantine, between the UK and some countries with low rates of Covid-19 spread – called “air bridges.” But now there has been a Cabinet backlash against this (rather bonkers) idea. The travel industry is desperate to get people flying again, on holiday, and are lobbying Shapps hard, to be allowed to resume as fast as possible. Now Number 10, the Foreign Office and Home Office are said to have branded the idea “unworkable” and it was not authorised. A government source said: “It was just Grant freelancing …he’s got the airlines on his back … ” And “Grant Shapps is trying to protect what he can of the tourist and airline industry because he doesn’t want them to fail on his watch.” Although the 14 days quarantine for any passenger entering the UK has not yet been finally agreed, it is thought it will be reviewed every 3 weeks. The concept of anything like an “air bridge” is a long way off. There are concerns about the economic hit for countries that have become dependent on UK tourists.
Grant Shapps left isolated as ‘air bridges’ plan for holidaymakers faces Cabinet backlash
A Cabinet backlash appears to have dealt a blow to plans for ‘air bridges’ with holiday hotspots that have low Coronavirus rates
By Charles Hymas, HOME AFFAIRS EDITOR (Telegraph)
20 May 2020
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been left isolated over his air bridge plan as Number 10, the Foreign Office and Home Office are said to have branded it “unworkable.”
His announcement on Monday of “air bridges” for countries with low coronavirus rates to bypass the proposed 14-day quarantine was not authorised, according to one Government source.
“It was just Grant freelancing,” the source said. “He has been against this whole thing from the get go, because he’s got the airlines on his back. “Frankly people in Government are quite annoyed with him because they just got the quarantine thing onto an even keel after a few wobbly weeks and then he throws the spanner in the works.”
The disclosures suggest the chances of Britain securing “air bridge” deals with other nations this Summer are remote as a blanket quarantine is introduced for all international arrivals, including returning Britons.
Only freight drivers and a “limited” number of specialist jobs will be exempted.
Although the quarantine will be reviewed every three weeks, a Government source said: “Air bridges are much further down the line.”
Government sources yesterday refused to say whether the wrangles had delayed publication of the plans, which had been expected would be published last week.
However, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, told LBC yesterday that the measures were still being “developed” in consultation with scientific advisers. “We are not in the position to say this is how it is going to work,” she said.
It comes amid growing concern at the impact the potential loss of British tourists will have on countries whose economies particularly rely on UK holidaymakers.
Lord Marland, a former Tory party treasurer and chair of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment council (CWEIC), yesterday wrote to Boris Johnson urging him to rethink the plans due to the potential economic damage to tourist-reliant states in the Caribbean, Pacific and Indian oceans.
It followed a virtual meeting on Monday of more than 100 senior Government ministers and tourism industry representatives from the Maldives, Malta, Cyprus, Australia, India, Sri Lanka, the Caribbean, and Pacific Islands.
Lord Marland wrote: “I sincerely hope the UK Government will…review the decision to introduce a 14-day quarantine measure that would be extremely detrimental, not only to the reopening of the UK tourism industry but to those countries which are heavily reliant on visitors from the UK.”
He welcomed the “air bridges” proposal, which, as the Daily Telegraph reported yesterday, has found favour with European holiday nations including Greece, Spain, Italy and France.
However, Government sources indicated the chances were slim with Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s senior adviser, as a driving force behind the quarantine plan.
“There is a battle between Dominic Cummnings and Grant Shapps going on here,” said one source. “Grant Shapps is trying to protect what he can of the tourist and airline industry because he doesn’t want them to fail on his watch.”
Supporters of quarantine say it is essential to a strategy of preventing a second peak of the disease hitting the UK, once coronavirus transmission rates have been suppressed to a minimum.
“The FCO had to repatriate all those people and it was a nightmare, and if [infection rates rise] again you would have to do that all over again [if you had instituted air bridges],” said the source.
The Home Office “aren’t going to let it happen any time soon”, the source added, noting “Dom [Cummings] wants a relatively tough [quarantine], so I can’t see it happening.”
Quarantine will mean all international travellers except those from the common travel area like Ireland, Guernsey and Jersey will have to supply their contact and accommodation information and self-isolate for 14 days. They will also be strongly advised to download and use the NHS contact tracing app.
Possible UK plan for “air bridges” letting in passengers from some countries, so people can have foreign holidays…
Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, has said there might be “air bridges” between countries with low coronavirus infection rates. The 14 day quarantine, that might be imposed from around the start of June on arriving passengers (still not confirmed) might then be relaxed in favour of a more targeted focus on people from high-risk countries. It seems likely that the 14 day quarantine will start, for all passengers, with spot checks on people and possible £1,000 fines for those who breach the rules. Any restrictions would be reviewed every 3 weeks to ensure that they “remain effective and necessary”. The idea of “air bridges” is to let people enter the UK – presumably without quarantine, if the R number (itself very hard to calculate or get a reliable figure on, without widespread effective testing) is below (?about) one. So the thinking is that it would be OK for people to arrive in the UK, as long as they only spread Covid to less than one other person, on average. The travel and aviation industries are desperate to get people flying again, and trying to convince people that the risk of personal infection is low – and convince governments that Covid infection, costing the UK a fortune, will not rise again, due to imported virus.