Europe

Whole airports 'may have to be mothballed' in wake of new travel restrictions

The travel industry has warned businesses won’t survive unless they are given more support in the wake of yet more restrictions being introduced on the sector. 

Boris Johnson has scrapped all ‘travel corridors’ meaning people arriving from any other country in the world must quarantine for 10 days after flying into the UK.

Previously passengers arriving from destinations such as New Zealand and Sri Lanka – where infection rates are low – could forgo this isolation period. 

But the scheme will end at 4am on Monday and Karen Dee, the chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, said it’s ‘only so long’ before airports might have to close temporarily to save costs.

She said: ‘The closure of travel corridors is understandable from a public health perspective but this adds to the current near-complete shutdown of the UK’s airports, which are vital for our post-pandemic prosperity. This is making a devastating situation for UK airports and communities relying on the jobs and economic benefits that aviation brings, worse.’

Ms Dee called for governments to set out a plan to support airports ‘as a matter of extreme urgency’, adding that a business rate support scheme announced last year is ‘not yet even open’ to applications and ‘no longer sufficient.’

‘Airports are currently keeping their infrastructure open to support vital and critical services, such as post, freight, emergency services, military and Coastguard flights, as well as to help keep the lights in the UK on through supporting flights to offshore oil, gas and wind operations,’ she said.

‘Airports are doing so while running on empty – there is only so long they can run on fumes before having to close temporarily to preserve their business for the future. Government needs to help cover airports’ operational costs by, for example, urgently providing relief from regulatory, policing, air traffic and business rates costs in the current and the coming tax year.’

The suspension of all travel corridors comes amid fears that new, more infectious, strains of Covid could be spread to the UK by travellers from South Africa and Brazil. 

Travel from South America and countries with strong connections to Brazil had already been banned after a new variant was identified in Japanese travellers returning from the country.

From next week, passengers will also have to show proof of a negative test taken in the previous 72 hours before travelling.

The ten day isolation period can be cut to five days if someone tests negative and the new rules will be reviewed on February 15. 

In response to the announcement, the General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), Brian Strutton, said: ‘This is yet another huge blow to the travel industry and UK aviation with no indication from the Government of any support or a plan to help the sector though this crisis. 

‘These are dire times and we need a clear plan of action and a proper package of support or the UK aviation industry will not be there to support the post Covid-19 recovery.’

Some holiday-makers had begun to book trips again for later in the year in the hope that the vaccine programme will have been effective enough by then to allow some foreign travel.

But tour operators have already been forced to cancel holidays, even before the latest restrictions were announced.

Earlier this week, Jet2 suspended all flights and holidays until March 25, citing ‘ongoing uncertainty’.

EasyJet on Thursday began cancelling holidays up to and including March 24, due to ongoing curbs and changing rules on international travel.

The trade association ABTA called for a sector-specific package of support, similar to those offered by the Government to businesses in hospitality and the arts. 

In a statement, the body, which represents travel agents, pointed to the ‘important role’ the industry will play in the UK’s economic recovery and called for the ministers to engage with companies to formulate a plan for future overseas travel when the restrictions are lifted. 

A Department for Transport spokesman told the BBC: ‘We are supporting the travel and tourism sector through these challenging times and have provided a comprehensive package of measures including extending the furlough scheme until the end of April, business rates relief and tax deferrals.

‘We are committed to helping bring the travel and tourism sector back to full strength as soon as it is safe to do so.’

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