COVID-19: Aviation sector struggling amid new travel rules
The UK aviation sector‘s outlook darkened after It was announced last week that holidays abroad would be made illegal and result in a GBP 5,000 fine. The ban of non-essential travel has placed further strain on the UK travel industry, as it’s uncertain as to when holidays abroad can resume.
According to Mr Hancock, these travel rules are all are necessary to reduce the risk of COVID variants being imported into the UK. While some may feel that the government has acted too late given that the UK’s rapid vaccination programme is underway, Matt Hancock hoped placing a temporary ban on non-essential travel would effectively curb the spread of COVID-19 as seen in Australia.
What are the latest UK travel rules?
It is currently against the law for UK citizens to travel abroad for holiday purposes. Those travelling abroad for a legitimate reason will need to fill out a declaration form. It is uncertain as to when travel abroad will resume, though 17th May is currently the earliest target date.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock previously stated that from February 15th all UK and Northern Ireland residents returning to the UK from “red list” countries would have to isolate in quarantine hotels for ten days. Anyone that does not have UK residency rights and has visited a red list country within ten days of departure will be denied entry at the border.
British residents and citizens will be required to pay for quarantine packages ahead of their return to the UK at the cost of GBP 1750. Besides lodging, the quarantine package also includes full board, transport from the airport to the hotel and COVID testing.
According to recent reports, quarantine accommodation has been spread across 16 hotels with 4,600 rooms available.
Anyone who attempts to evade the new travel rules and conceal that they have travelled to a red list country could face a GBP 5,000 fine rising to GBP 10,000 depending on the circumstances and up to 10 years in imprisonment.
What are the UK’s red list countries?
There are currently 33 countries on the UK’s red list, which are:
- Cape Verde
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- French Guiana
- South Africa
- United Arab Emirates (UAE)
Matt Hancock also unveiled a new mass testing system for arrivals, which will force all travellers to take an additional two tests before entering the country.
Thousands of holiday-goers and business travellers will now have to factor in an additional GBP 210 when travelling abroad.
Travellers must pay for the double-test package before returning to the UK and failure to do so could result in a fine up to GBP 2,000 and a 14-day extension on the self-isolation period.
The UK government tightened travel restrictions amid concerns that current vaccines could be ineffective against emerging COVID strains.
However, the new travel rules have been met with dismay from the aviation sector, which is demanding urgent support from the UK government as hopes a return to travel this summer fade.
Aviation sector makes a plea for urgent support
Lockdown rules and travel restrictions have beleaguered the travel sector since the onset of the pandemic, and many industry chiefs have made calls for targeted support for businesses to survive.
Airline shares plummeted after Health Secretary Matt Hancock unveiled the new travel rules for the UK, with quarantine hotels spelling further chaos for the aviation industry.
EasyJet, British Airways parent company, IAG and TUi all shed more than 3% following the announcement, and ongoing uncertainty could see these shares decline further.
Airport Operators Association (AOA) Chief Executive, Karen Dee, and Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, have urged the British government to produce a roadmap for resuming operations when the country turns the tide on COVID-19.
In a joint statement to MPs, Karen Dee and Tim Alderslade wrote: “Whilst public health is of first importance, the latest measure adds a further barrier to viable air travel.”
“It deepens the worsening 2021 outlook for our sector, which has already been largely grounded for a year.”
The statement highlighted the fact airports, airlines and other travel companies have made almost zero revenue during the coronavirus pandemic and are in dire need of further support if the sector is to survive through the year.
Both added: “A two-week review clause is essential to ensure that the current complex, blanket set of measures are rolled-back as soon as it is safe to do so.”
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has also backed the plea for urgent support. CBI UK Chief Policy Director, Matthew Fell warned that thousands of businesses and jobs would be at risk without additional financial aid.
Aviation businesses aren’t the only firms struggling amid the pandemic. According to recent data from a leading think tank, 600,000 UK companies could collapse without further government support, placing nearly nine million jobs at risk.
According to research by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), one in every three UK businesses had less than three months’ worth of cash reserves in the fourth months to January-end 2021, with small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the direst straits.
Although businesses are pinning hopes for a return to normalcy on the UK’s rapid vaccine rollout, the reality is that much remains uncertain amidst the threat of new COVID variants.
UK vaccination programme a ray of hope for international travel?
The UK has received global recognition for its COVID-19 vaccination programme, which has delivered doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine and the Pfizer/BioNTech jab at a rapid pace.
According to the latest government data, more than 30 million people in the UK have received their first coronavirus vaccines, making it one of the more successful vaccination programmes in the world.
However, new mutant strains appear to be triggering concerns over vaccine efficacy. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britons would more than likely need to receive further vaccines in the autumn due to new variants.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also advised Brits against making summer holiday plans, which provoked an immediate backlash from aviation chiefs.
Mr Shapps said that the easing of travel restrictions would not only rely on the success of the UK’s vaccination programme but international vaccine rollouts, due to the risk of new strains being imported from overseas.
Although Mr Johnson’s lockdown exit roadmap is underway, Grant Shapps said that a question mark remains over lifting UK travel rules due to a lack of data on vaccinations and the increased pressure on the NHS.
His statement comes as South Africa paused rollouts of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine after a study found that the formula offered minimal protection against mild cases of the country’s dominant variant.
However, England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Van-Tam said the study on the vaccine’s efficacy against the South African strain should be interpreted with caution. Mr Van-Tam said the Oxford vaccine offers increased protection against severe disease, which is vital for those most at risk.