The economy will nosedive until Covid testing is brought in at borders, furious business chiefs said last night.
Demanding urgent action from Boris Johnson, they warned 14-day quarantine was crippling travel, wrecking trade prospects and jeopardising the recovery. The chief executive of Heathrow accused the Government of ‘doing nothing to protect jobs’.
‘What makes me more angry is that we are putting this country’s future at risk,’ said John Holland-Kaye.
‘We weren’t born as one of the world’s great trading nations. We got there through hard work and ingenuity over decades. And all that work will be lost if we stand by and do nothing to safely open up our borders.’
British Airways boss Willie Walsh said quarantine was ‘throttling business and holiday plans and handcuffing our economic recovery’. The Daily Mail is leading calls for testing at airports and ports to get the country and economy moving again.
Pictured: A British Airways plane takes off from the northern runway at Heathrow Airport – Britain’s biggest and busiest. It would normally handle around 1,300 flights every day in September, with 220,000 passengers coming and going. Yesterday there were just 504 flights landing and taking off, with many planes far from full
Airlines UK, the Airport Operators Association, Virgin Atlantic, EasyJet, Airbus and Rolls-Royce are all backing the campaign. Gatwick, Manchester, Stansted, Southend, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton airports also pledged their support.
Tony Blair said testing at airports was essential to reopening the economy. The former prime minister added: ‘Testing after travel will reduce quarantine and eventually replace it altogether.
‘By maximising all the testing capacity at our disposal and continuing to bring online new, innovative on-the-spot tests, we can do this now. It will be essential to getting international travel back and revitalising the economy.’
Travel industry leaders are furious at the failure to bring in airport testing, with one warning ministers were ‘presiding over the demise of the aviation industry’.
Empty: Terminal 5 at Heathrow was devoid of tourists today as business chiefs call for Britain to get flying again
The quarantine system – in which travellers have to self-isolate for 14 days if they arrive in the UK from a ‘red list’ country – has been in place since June. It has caused mayhem for British holidaymakers, tourists from abroad and business travellers.
Countries have been taken off the list – opening up travel bookings – only to be added again a few weeks later when their rate of coronavirus infections increases.
To add to the confusion, the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are able to impose their own rules. This was dramatically illustrated last night when the UK government decided not to add Portugal or Greece to its quarantine list.
Yet travellers in Wales were told they would have to self-isolate for 14 days if they returned from mainland Portugal or any of six Greek islands.
The number of foreigners coming to Britain has collapsed with devastating consequences for London and other tourist hotspots.
At least there’s no queue: Gatwick’s North Terminal. Travel bosses have pointed out that other countries have introduced testing regimes that reduce the need for quarantine
As bookings plummet 90%, Eurostar shuts Kent stations
Eurostar is to mothball its stations in Kent until 2022, raising fears of hundreds of job losses.
The train operator blamed quarantine restrictions for a 90 per cent drop in bookings compared to last year.
Its trains have not been stopping at Ashford International or Ebbsfleet International stations since March, but that has now been extended to 2022.
Ashford MP Damian Green, who was Theresa May’s de facto deputy, said yesterday it was a ‘huge blow’. He said: ‘As long as people are worried about travelling abroad, the traffic will not be back.
‘That undermines the urgency of getting a vaccine or some other way, such as more and quicker testing. If people could be tested going in and out of the country, then they could travel with confidence nearly as good as a vaccine.’
A Eurostar spokesman said: ‘Covid-19 has had a severe impact on the travel industry… it is crucial we adapt and take action to reduce our costs so that we protect our business for the future.’
Travel bosses point out that countries including Germany, France, Italy and Iceland have managed to introduce a testing regime to eliminate or reduce the need for quarantine. They have spent months calling for passengers to be tested on arrival and then again a few days later. Experts on the Sage committee endorsed the idea two months ago.
Minutes from the scientific advisory group show it asked Public Health England to consider such a policy after research found tests after five days would pick up 85 per cent of coronavirus cases, and 96 per cent after eight days.
The plan would have allowed people to finish quarantine within a week. However aviation bosses say the Department for Transport has ‘stopped engaging’ on the issue.
Heathrow has even built its own testing centre ready to test thousands of arrivals – but the multi-million pound facility is gathering dust. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has not even asked to visit.
Sources have blamed the lack of action on Whitehall infighting. One senior Tory MP said that although Mr Shapps supports testing, other departments are concerned about ‘false negative’ results and other potential problems.
Jet2 last night cancelled all flights and holidays to Spain and Croatia for the rest of the summer season. The tour operator blamed the quarantine measures for ruining thousands of holidays. A spokesman said: ‘We urge the Government to continue to help holidaymakers by implementing a targeted approach to travel advice, instead of the current blanket approach.’
The quarantine rules are being opposed by more than 80 MPs, half of them Conservatives.
Steve Baker, Tory former minister and MP for High Wycombe, said: ‘If the Government can provide fast accurate lateral-flow tests at airports to enable people to avoid quarantine when they come back, then they must deploy them widely.
‘As an MP for a constituency west of Heathrow, I see through my mailbox the devastating impact of coronavirus on the ground crew, the pilots and the cabin crew.’
The first international flight in more than five months landed in China’s capital yesterday with the passengers greeted by airport staff in full hazmat suits.
Initially the Chinese are allowing flights from Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, Greece, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Canada – countries deemed low risk.
Eleven cases were reported yesterday in China, where the coronavirus first emerged late last year.
… and how it used to be
Airports in early September are usually full of families flying back for the new school year – or canny holidaymakers heading out on cut-price term-time deals.
Sadly, the gates at Gatwick and Heathrow were all but empty yesterday. In fact, departures at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 was literally deserted at one point, as seen above.
The airport – Britain’s biggest and busiest – would normally handle around 1,300 flights every day in September, with 220,000 passengers coming and going. Yesterday there were just 504 flights landing and taking off, with many planes far from full.
How it was last year: Chaos at Heathrow Terminal 5 arrivals as warm weather and a lack of staff paints a very different scene to this years’ scenes at the airport. In a typical year, Heathrow would normally handle around 1,300 flights every day in September
Pictured: Travellers at Gatwick airport make their way to the departure gate at the end of August last year
Experts’ howls of anguish…
SHAI WEISS – Boss of Virgin Atlantic
‘We need urgent action from the UK Government, with the support of industry and our world-leading technology, to introduce testing that brings an end to the imposition of quarantine as soon as possible.’
DEREK PROVAN – Runs Southampton, Glasgow and Aberdeen airports
‘Ministers are overseeing the demise of UK aviation. There are now more job losses than at the height of the coal industry collapse in the 80s. That is not an accolade any government would want.’
TIM ALDERSLADE – Chief of Airlines UK
‘UK aviation is in the danger zone. Tens of thousands of jobs have already been lost. There can be no future for UK connectivity without the adoption of a testing regime.’
KAREN DEE – Head of the Airport Operators Association
‘The Government needs to work with industry urgently.
UK aviation has been hit by the worst crisis in its history and testing will be one way in which the Government can help the industry to bring back air travel and set us on a path to recovery.’
JOHAN LUNDGREN – Chief Executive Efficer of Easyjet
‘To build customer confidence to travel a much-improved, more predictable and targeted quarantine and testing system is urgently needed.
The Government should also put in place testing on arrival for passengers travelling from quarantine areas in order to shorten or remove the need for quarantine altogether.’
STEWART WINGATE – Boss of Gatwick Airport
‘Testing will rebuild the economy, get people moving again and release the need for quarantine to many international destinations.’
GRAHAM BRADY – Tory 1922 Committee Chairman
‘Other countries such as Germany have had testing regimes at airports for many weeks which have allowed them to reopen to the world, benefiting both leisure travellers and businesses.
‘If the UK doesn’t move quickly to catch up with a testing regime that will open us up to world markets, then the damage already done to the British economy will be even worse.’
STEVE BAKER – Tory Former Minister
‘If the Government can provide fast accurate tests, then it must deploy them widely.’