LONDON • The UK is pressing ahead with a two-week quarantine for international arrivals, a move that British Airways (BA) and other carriers say will devastate tourism and wreck any chance the summer holiday season could spark a recovery from a virus-induced slump.
BA, EasyJet and Ryanair have threatened to sue the government over the policy, which took effect yesterday, saying the restriction will be ineffective at curtailing Covid-19 while threatening to destroy thousands of jobs.
The airlines fear the move will make lockdown-weary customers put off bookings just as carriers are adding capacity.
Asked by BBC Radio yesterday whether Ryanair would cancel its July and August flights if the quarantine remained in place, group CEO Michael O’Leary said: “No, because the flights are full outbound of the UK. British people are ignoring this quarantine, they know it’s rubbish.”
EasyJet chief executive said the airline could have to make further job cuts.
“I fear so,” EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren told Sky News, when asked if the job losses could be worse if the quarantine lasts for a long period. “I think and I fear unless there is a change to this (the quarantine rule), that the aviation industry as we know it here in the UK will not be intact.”
London’s Heathrow Airport has said that it might need to cut one-third of its workforce if the British government does not indicate soon that it plans to relax the quarantine rule.
Europe’s busiest air hub, which employs 7,000 people, has already eliminated a third of operating costs and management posts while resisting permanent job cuts among front-line staff, chief executive officer John Holland-Kaye said in a City A.M. podcast. That cannot remain the case if travel restrictions persist, he added.
With virus infection levels on the decline in most European countries, governments have been easing travel restrictions, and beaches are opening in places like Greece, Spain and Portugal.
Airlines are trying to salvage the summer season when tens of millions of people generally travel. Britain is one of the world’s top 10 tourist destinations and attracted more than 35 million visitors last year who spent more than US$50 billion (S$70 billion).
The quarantine would torpedo BA’s plans to resume about 40 per cent of its scheduled flights in July and force it to continue burning £20 million (S$35 million) a day, the carrier said.
Britain has recorded more than 40,000 coronavirus deaths, 10 per cent of the global total, though the number of cases and fatalities is gradually declining.
“The science is clear that if we limit the risk of new cases being brought in from abroad, we can help stop a devastating second wave,” Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement.
“We all want to return to normal as quickly as possible, but this cannot be at the expense of lives.”
Under the new rules, travellers will have to give an address where they will be self-isolating before departing for Britain, and foreign nationals who refuse to say where they will be staying could be refused entry. Officials will conduct spot checks to ensure compliance, and can impose £1,000 fines on people found breaking the rules.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is finalising plans to ease the lockdown and rebuild the economy as he seeks to stop the haemorrhaging of support for his government’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
Mr Johnson will brief Cabinet ministers today on the next stage of lifting restrictions and use a speech later this month to accelerate increased spending on roads, hospitals and research, his office said.
Three opinion polls at the weekend showed public confidence in his administration slipping and the gap narrowing between his Conservatives and the main opposition Labour Party.
Mr Johnson, who won a commanding majority in the House of Commons in December, will commit to spending to support the normally Labour-voting industrial regions in the north that backed him at the election.
He has already said there will be no return to austerity policies that followed the 2008 financial crisis.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has insisted there will be no “trade-off” between the economy and health in a response to reports in the Sunday Times newspaper that Mr Johnson wants to speed up the lifting of Britain’s lockdown to stop a massive increase in unemployment.