The plans to impose quarantine on air travelers were unveiled by PM Boris Johnson, as he announced the next steps to ease coronavirus restrictions in an address to the nation on Sunday.
“To prevent reinfection from abroad, I am serving notice that it will soon be the time – with transmission significantly lower – to impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air,” Johnson said.
While no official timeframe for enforcing the proposed quarantine has been revealed yet, the measure is expected to take effect by the end of May or early June. Still, the plan has already alarmed not only airlines’ executives, but also some of Britain’s closest neighbors, namely France. Shortly after the announcement, French President Emmanuel Macron and Johnson held a phone call, after which Johnson confirmed that the measure would not apply to French travellers – unless Paris introduces a similar rule for its own foreign arrivals (British included).
“No quarantine measures would apply to travelers coming from France at this stage,” Johnson’s office said after the call. A similar message was carried by Elysee – it said that “any measures on either side would be taken in a concerted and reciprocal manner.”
Some assumed that Johnson backtracked on his initial proposal for all arrivals to be quarantined under pressure from Macron, suggesting the French leader was incensed by the unilateral nature of London’s master plan.
While Johnson failed to elaborate, whether the proposed quarantine would be exclusively limited to air travel, with many assuming just that, there have been reports that the measure would also include other means of transportation, and that Johnson’s point was to merely provide an example.
However, with the lack of clarity around the proposal, many accused the British leader of coming out with a half-baked plan, which – at least as outlined by the PM – would not affect those coming into the country by train or ferry.
Unlike quite a few countries, the UK did not impose quarantine measures on travelers when the coronavirus outbreak reached its shores. While air traffic has been at a trickle and most flights have been grounded for over a month already, it did not prevent some 100,000 people from arriving into the UK since 23 March, according to BBC.
The plans to impose quarantine on air passengers did not sit well with the local aviation industry, battered by the Covid-19 crisis.
“We will be asking for assurances that this decision has been led by the science and that government has a credible exit plan, with weekly reviews to ensure the restrictions are working and still required,” the trade body, Airlines UK, said on Saturday.
Karen Dee, the chief executive of the Airport Operators Association warned the move will “not only have a devastating impact on the UK aviation industry, but also on the wider economy” altogether.