Government and travel industry in disagreement over ‘quarantine roulette’

By Gareth Jones, Newgate Public Affairs

The fallout from the UK’s decision to re-impose quarantine restrictions on arrivals from Spain continued today, with travel bosses coming out to criticise the Government’s policy of a blanket 14-day quarantine period and proposing alternatives to help rescue the UK’s travel and tourism industries. 

With the prospect of more countries being taken off the Government’s no-quarantine list in the near future, as cases rise across Europe, many in the sector are now fearful that the critical summer season could be lost unless drastic action is taken. The European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Association described these “wildcat quarantines” as a “catastrophe” for a travel industry. 

Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport announced a £1 billion loss today for the first half of the year. Its boss, John Holland-Kaye, spoke to the media this morning to call on the Government to reconsider its current policy, which he said amounted to “a game of quarantine roulette”. 

He proposed an alternative system whereby passengers would be tested for COVID-19 at their point of entry to the UK and again at a health centre within five to eight days of arrival. 

Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, however, responded to this proposal on the Today Programme by stressing that there is currently no viable alternative to the 14-day quarantine and stated that “It is not the case that testing provides a silver bullet.” Dowden added: “If we could avoid imposing quarantine in a way that it was safe to do so, of course, we would do that — that is why we keep it under review.” 

The disagreement with the travel sector underlines the real concern in Government that the UK is caught up in a second wave that is currently impacting across Europe. The Prime Minister warned last night that “you are starting to see in some places [in Europe] the signs of a second wave of the pandemic.”, while Dr David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy for coronavirus, said that Europe was on the brink of a second spike and that the quarantine period was the most effective way of avoiding a resurgence of cases in the UK. There are also rumours that quarantine measures for arrivals from Luxembourg and Belgium could begin as soon as tomorrow.

Elsewhere today, the domestic challenges faced by the UK’s tourism industry were highlighted, with many of the UK’s tourist hotspots suffering due to COVID disruption. Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, said today that even staycations in some parts of the country could be at risk because “there is still the possibility of a local lockdown coming into place”. Meanwhile, Labour leader Keir Starmer travelled to Falmouth, Cornwall to highlight the problems of unemployment in towns reliant on tourism and called for a targeted extension of the furlough scheme for the hardest-hit sectors.

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