What are they thinking?
While countries around the world start to ease their lockdown restrictions, a controversial decision by the UK Government to impose a 14-day quarantine period on passengers arriving in the country has left aviation stakeholders bewildered. It begs the question, what are they thinking?
Two months ago when the UK entered its lockdown period, its borders remained open, with passengers free to travel through its ports without any screening, medical assessments, temperature checks or quarantine measures being imposed. Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of countries, including Greece, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Qatar and Germany included airports as their frontline defence to manage and reduce the flow of potential COVID-19 carriers from entering their country. Strict quarantine measures were applied for all returning nationals or residents while foreign visitors were banned from entry.
Amid its lack of airport measures Britain has been described as “an outlier”.
But on Sunday 10 May British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, outlined plans to impose a mandatory quarantine for all travellers arriving in the UK by air come the end of May. However travellers from France – whose own quarantine exempts EU countries and the UK – are free to enter the UK.
The aviation sector was quick to sound the alarm at the prospect of a quarantine period. Karen Dee, CEO of the Airport Operators Association said that it would have a “devastating impact” on the UK aviation industry and the wider economy. And following an announcement from Ryanair that it hopes to have 40% of its scheduled service running from July, the airline’s CEO, Michael O’Leary, has warned that many of his customers will choose to flout any self-isolation requirements. O’Leary told reporters, “It’s unimplementable and unenforceable anyway, so I think people will largely ignore it.” He did argue, however, that by the time we get to 1 July, masks and temperature checks are likely to be the norm for all public transport across Europe. “It would be a reasonably modest extension to add those to airport terminals and onboard aircraft.”
Additionally, a letter written by Airlines UK and signed off by a number of airport CEOs expressed the “collective and serious concern and frustration” regarding the proposed quarantine measure for UK inbound travellers.
The letter underlined that there has been:
“No clarity on key details of the proposal, including the Sage advice underpinning the measure against potential alternatives, its geographic scope, whether it only affects air travel or includes other transport modes, how enforceable such a measure will be in reality, the conditions and process for withdrawing it and, critically, what cross-industry measures UK Government will now take as a matter of urgency to support a sector which in effect will be grounded for the foreseeable future.”
The association is working with government to agree a set of new, effective health protocols guided by the science (such as face masks and temperature checks) that can be implemented at UK airports as soon as possible.
On Tuesday 12 May, Spain also announced it plans to introduce a mandatory two-week quarantine for travellers arriving from overseas in a bid to prevent visitors from sparking a second wave of the coronavirus. However, with the country’s state of emergency due to end later this month, the Spanish quarantine is only due to be applied to travellers arriving between 15–24 May. What’s more, truck drivers, airplane and ship crews, cross-border workers and health staff working in Spain will be exempt.
With Airports Council International (ACI) reporting that European airports saw a -98.6% drop in passenger traffic during April compared to the same period last year, Olivier Jankovec, ACI Europe’s Director General, warns, “If some air traffic and revenue generation capabilities are not restored in time for the peak summer months, we will see airports across Europe going bust, with a far-reaching domino effect upon local communities.”
Restarting operations is an immediate priority to ensure we avoid large scale and irreversible damage. As such, the need for European states to fully co-ordinate and align the conditions under which current restrictions to air travel can be lifted are even more pertinent than ever before.
Surely to facilitate the return to a new kind of normal, governments need to be supporting the aviation sector and lifting quarantine requirements for incoming travellers, not introducing them!
Have a safe weekend,
Chloë Greenbank, Regional Gateway Editor.
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