The head of Heathrow airport has warned new quarantine rules for travellers are “essentially a border closure,” demanding government plans for the safe restoration of travel.
Britain’s largest airport warned passengers numbers stood at just a tenth of normal levels, just as the government comes under fire over mixed messaging on booking summer holidays.
Heathrow airport released data showing its passenger numbers were down 89% year-on-year in January even before new stricter measures taking effect this month. “The national lockdown, travel bans, blanket quarantine and compulsory testing deterred people from travelling,” it said in an update.
The UK government announced this week travellers will have to take two COVID-19 tests during their quarantine period after arriving in the UK. Those coming from a ‘red list’ of 33 of the countries where the South African coronavirus variant has spread also have to quarantine in hotels, at a cost of £1,750.
“The additional inconvenience and cost of quarantine hotels, day2/day 8 testing requirements on top of other measures mean that the UK's borders are effectively closed,” said Heathrow’s latest statement, which also dubbed the rules “complex.”
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Meanwhile fewer passenger flights knocked cargo volume, down 21% last month. Heathrow said it was a “key indicator of the damage that travel restrictions are having on the UK's exports and supply chain.”
The airport warned exporters, services firms, the education sector and inbound tourism industry relied on air travel. They need a “flight plan” for safe border re-opening in prime minister Boris Johnson’s promised statement about Britain’s “roadmap” out of lockdown restrictions and the pandemic on 22 February, according to Heathrow.
It also repeated calls for financial help for the aviation sector, including business rates relief and an extension to the furlough scheme, at next month’s Budget. Many business chiefs and the Labour opposition have already demanded the job protection scheme be extended to prevent job losses, with support due to be slashed in April.
"We support the government in measures required to protect public health. But these additional requirements are essentially a border closure. That will inevitably delay the country's recovery and hurt the UK's supply chains,” said Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye.
“We also need to preserve our vital aviation infrastructure to support economic recovery when it comes and make Global Britain a reality.”
The comments come as the UK government faces heavy criticism for confusion over summer holiday advice. Minister handed out conflicting guidance in a series of media interviews on Wednesday.
Health secretary Matt Hancock spoke of his “high confidence that the summer of 2021 will be a bright one,” and said he had booked his own getaway. But hours later transport secretary Grant Shapps said the public should not be booking trips away even within the UK.
On Thursday Hancock appeared to row back, saying there is “a lot of uncertainty” and urging people to be “patient” in an interview with the BBC.
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