The leaders of seven of the biggest airlines serving the UK have asked the health secretary to assure travellers there will be no further “knee-jerk universal testing or hotel quarantine” in response to future Covid variants.
In a joint letter, coordinated by the industry body Airlines UK, they call on Sajid Javid to “rule out border closures and flight bans in response to future variants of concern”.
When Omicron was identified in late November, flights from South Africa to the UK were immediately grounded. Arriving travellers from 11 African countries were placed in hotel quarantine. The “red list” was abandoned on 15 December.
Arrivals from other locations were required to take pre-departure tests and post-arrival PCRs, with mandatory quarantine until a negative result was obtained.
These restrictions were eased earlier this month, but arrivals from every foreign country except Ireland must take a test on the day of return or one of the two following days – even if they have had multiple Covid jabs.
The airlines’ letter calls for “restriction-free international travel, at the very least for the fully vaccinated” – including an end to post-arrival tests.
The CEOs are Sean Doyle of British Airways; Johan Lundgren of easyJet; Steve Heapy of Jet2; Jonathan Hinkles of Loganair; Eddie Wilson of Ryanair; and Shai Weiss of Virgin Atlantic. Andrew Flintham, managing Director, Tui UK & Ireland, is the seventh signatory.
They say: “International travel is one of the few areas where there is no return to normal yet. Evidence shows that travel restrictions have not been effective in preventing the spread of Omicron or its impact on the NHS.
“Last summer saw restriction-free travel across Europe for the fully vaccinated, with no signs this led to worse outcomes than the UK experienced.
“It is time for passengers and businesses who rely upon the UK’s air connectivity to fully benefit from the same vaccine dividend that has enabled our domestic economy to reopen.”
The aviation industry in the UK has been hit far harder in any other major European nation, with international departures last year just 29 per cent of 2019 levels.
“Complicated, costly and unstable travel rules have seen UK passenger numbers and international connectivity recover slower than our European neighbours,” the leaders say.
Around £50bn has been lost from inbound tourism, which has almost vanished as a result of travel restrictions imposed on international arrivals.
Earlier this month Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said: “I’ve always said that we won’t keep international travel restrictions in place any longer than they are necessary to protect public health.
“We want to provide more certainty to passengers and businesses, and will do a full review of our international travel measures for 2022 by the end of the month.”
An announcement on easing restrictions is expected as soon as today.
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