Airport bosses frustrated by UK Government’s international travel plans
Bosses at Manchester Airport have voiced their frustration over the UK Government’s travel plans, stating that there is a lack of a long-term strategy. This week, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed plans for a traffic light system where UK citizens could travel to ‘green’ countries from potentially 17th May. Countries will be assessed based on the number of COVID-19 infections and the success of their vaccination programme.
Whilst Manchester Airport bosses agreed that the traffic light system was a step in the right direction for international travel, they criticised the lack of clarity surrounding restriction free travel in the future. The airport bosses believe that a clear plan has been put in place for all other sectors but long-term developments for the aviation industry remain unknown.
The aviation industry has been one of the worst impacted sectors as a result of COVID-19, with passenger demand declining by 90% over the past year due to travel restrictions.
A spokesperson from Manchester Airports Group acknowledged that some travel restrictions should continue to help curb the spread of COVID-19 variants, though also stated that it is “hugely disappointing that the proposed framework includes no provision for a return to restriction-free travel, either now or in the future when the conditions are judged to be appropriate.”
Mutant strains remain biggest threat to international travel
During the beginning of 2021, ministers introduced new restrictions to prevent the virus from spreading further, with January’s cases in the UK higher than during the first peak last April.
The suspension of travel corridors came days after reports that the government would trial COVID-19 passports, which would provide thousands of Brits who have already received their jab proof that they have been vaccinated.
However, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Emergency Committee has urged governments’ not to issue these so-called “COVID-19 passports”. At the same time, CEO of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), Gloria Guevara, branded the decision as “discriminatory.”
The WHO said it would be unfair to require proof of vaccination when “the impact and effectiveness of vaccines on reducing transmission remain unknown, and the current availability of vaccines is too limited.”
One minister, Nadhim Zahawi, initially denied claims that the UK would be trialling vaccine passports but has since stated that it is an option that must be considered.
While the news regarding vaccine passports is mostly uncertain, Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, confirmed the introduction of an Australia-style quarantine system for travellers entering the UK.
All arrivals to the UK have to quarantine for ten days and receive two coronavirus tests which must be booked prior to travel.
Travellers must either isolate in the place in which they are staying or a specific “quarantine hotel”.
The UK’s “quarantine hotels”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed during the beginning of the year that officials would introduce Australia-style quarantine hotels – designated self-isolation buildings for travellers entering the UK.
The government will ensure the isolation period is adhered to by implementing facial recognition technology and GPS systems in these quarantine hotels.
Mr Raab said that Public Health England would also be ramping up its capacity to check people to ensure quarantine rules are being followed.
When questioned about the government’s slow response to tightening border controls, Dominic Raab said: “I don’t accept that we have been too slow in this – we are broadly the same pace in terms of Canada and Germany.”
The more stringent restrictions are also expected to cause further harm to the aviation industry, which is already in economic turmoil due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Airlines and airports urge UK government to extend COVID lifeline
Airline stocks continue to suffer significant blows last week with COVID-19 travel rules and travel bans to all countries still in place.
British Airways’ parent company, International Airlines Group, (LON: IAG) is continuing to plummet, with stock currently at 2.32% down at 212.80.
Simultaneously, Ryanair (LON: RYA) slumped to 16.59 and EasyJet (LON: EZJ) slipped to 999.60. While airline shares have recovered heading into New York trading hours, all remain in red territory.
Meanwhile, London’s blue-chip FTSE 100 Index is 0.14% higher at the time of writing at 6,894.68.
Airport Operators Association (AOA) Chief Executive, Karen Dee, said she understood that travel restrictions are necessary for the sake of public health. However, she warned that it “only adds to the current near-complete shutdown of UK airports, which are vital for our post-pandemic prosperity.”
She added: “the new travel rules make the dire situation for UK airports and communities relying on the jobs and economic benefits that aviation brings, worse.”
According to recent data published by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the aviation industry will need anywhere between GBP 52BN and GBP 59BN to survive the pandemic.
The UK government has said that it would increase financial aid for airports and airlines following new travel regulations. Under Secretary of State for Transport, Robert Courts said the government hopes to offer grants worth up to GBP 8M to eligible applicants before the end of the financial year.
Latest FCDO travel rules for Europe
While all travel from Britain has been suspended, some Britons need to travel for essential reasons. If you’re heading to Europe, we’ve outlined the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO’s) latest travel guidance.
Spain recently extended its travel restrictions due to finish at the end of March until 30th April.
Borders are open to EU countries and the Schengen area, though testing requirements apply and all non-essential travel is discouraged.
During March, France announced that it would ease restrictions on UK travellers, with travellers not needing to state an essential reason for entry. With the UK banning non-essential travel to other countries, these rules mostly apply to heavy goods vehicles and van drivers.
UK arrivals will have to provide a negative COVID test taken less than 72 hours prior to travel, though this does not apply to couriers. UK passengers entering France must self-isolate for 7 days on arrival.
The Italian government had restricted travel into Italy, meaning only Italian nationals or those with residency can enter the country. However, from 7th – 30th April, these restrictions will be lifted.
It’s recommended that only those with exceptional circumstances travel to the country. Arrivals will have to download a self-declaration form and produce a negative COVID-19 rapid antigenic or molecular swab test taken no more than 72 hours before departure.
Portugal, Germany and Greece have enforced similar rules. For further information and guidance on travel, visit the government website.