FSB, UK chambers, CBI and tourist bodies demand rethink of “draconian” air travel restrictions

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Blanket quarantines on air travellers must be relaxed to help British industry trade itself out of the economic downturn.

Representatives of the FSB, UK chambers of commerce, tourism bodies, the CBI and even the chief executive of Universities UK have written to the Government saying whole sectors of the economy “simply won’t recover and thrive without international connections” reopening.

They said the current indefinite and indiscriminate advice not to travel overseas was preventing businesses and individuals from being able to plan for their futures with confidence.

Since March, international travel has slowed to a trickle, although essential goods have been making it through.

As a result UK airlines, aerospace manufacturers, airports, and businesses connected with them are shedding tens of thousands of jobs.

Heathrow airport has just agreed a voluntary redundancy scheme with unions and said it cannot rule out further cuts.

Concerns have been raised about both the effectiveness and impact of the new rule which came in on Monday for everyone entering the UK by plane, train or ferry to self-isolate for 14 days. It will be reviewed every three weeks.

The letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps says something must be done to help the 1.5 million-plus UK jobs supported by air transport and the 40 per cent of our trade with non-EU countries which travels by plane.

Universities, it says, get around £6.9 billion a year from international students, while Britain’s tourism industry accounts for more than 7 per cent of the economy.

The letter suggests testing arrivals to the UK, combined with the Government’s track and trace system, could support economic recovery by allowing a controlled lifting of restrictions on movement.

While any steps to relax restrictions must prioritise public health it urgently wants the Government to set out:

· A framework for establishing ‘travel corridors’ between the UK and low-risk countries, and enable exemptions from the blanket quarantine requirements for UK arrivals.

· A timeline for returning to risk-based travel advice from the Foreign Office.

· A comprehensive approach to health screening for arrivals into the UK to help control the virus over the coming months.

An EasyJet plane

East Midlands Chamber, which covers Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire and has East Midlands Airport at its centre, is among the groups that have signed.

Chamber chief executive Scott Knowles said: “The international travel restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus have strangled whole sections of the economy, putting jobs and businesses at risk.

“While protecting public health and preventing the spread of Covid-19 should remain a top priority, focus should turn to reopening these vital ‘travel corridors’ as quickly as possible where it is safe to do so, so businesses can re-establish their international connections, start trading again and begin the process of rebuilding the economy.

“The longer lockdown goes on, the more strain it will place on the UK’s long-term health, economic and social outcomes, so we need to see what the Government’s detailed plan to reopen the UK for business looks like as quickly as possible.”

Paul Faulkner, chief executive of Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce and co-signatory of the letter said: “As we’ve consistently argued in our Mind the Gap report over the last few weeks, the Government needs to rethink these draconian measures related to quarantining air travellers as soon as possible if our aviation sector is to get back on track and I had no hesitation in joining businesses leaders across the country to make this crucial point to Ministers.

“From a local perspective, Birmingham Airport is an anchor institution in the region, employing over 6,000 and contributing over £1.5bn to the regional economy.

“Its long-term recovery from this crisis will have wide ranging implications for the West Midlands as a whole. Therefore, it’s absolutely essential the Government strikes the right balance between reducing the infection rate and stimulating demand within the economy.

“As underlined in the letter, any steps taken to relax the restrictions need to prioritise public health and also need to be guided by science.

“We feel the suggestions set out in the letter will not only command the confidence of the general public but also will help to create a platform for prosperity which will allow our local businesses to restart exploring new commercial opportunities both home and abroad.”


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