Brits will be able to travel to some popular European countries from next week as the first 'air bridges' are set to be announced by the government with a series of holiday spots including Italy, France and Spain, expected to be declared safe for travellers. A quarantine review is planned for June 29 and the Foreign Office will then change its travel advice from "against all but essential international travel" to allow travel to nations considered safe.
Yesterday (Wednesday), Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the so-called air bridges will only be agreed with countries which have a low rate of coronavirus infections as well as a test and trace system similar to the UK one. France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Greece, Belgium, Netherlands, Gibraltar, Bermuda and possibly Portugal will all be announced in the first batch of "safe nations", The Sun reports. Currently, most travellers arriving in the UK must quarantine for 14 days under strict measures introduced this month. Passengers must fill out a form giving an address where they will stay and can face fines if they are caught flouting the rules.
The new policy has caused chaos in the travel industry which is struggling to restart after the Covid-19 lockdown. Air bridges would enable travellers arriving from countries where the risk of being infected by Covid-19 is deemed to be low to avoid going into quarantine after they have landed. Medium haul destinations, such as Dubai and Turkey, are expected to be included towards August. Long haul flights, including Vietnam, Singapore and Hong Kong, are set to be added to the list from mid to late summer. The US, Mexico and South American countries are not expected to be deemed safe until the end of the year because of their high rates of coronavirus infections, according to The Sun.
Face masks are still a requirement when travelling (Heathrow Airport Ltd)
Paul Charles, spokesman for pressure group Quash Quarantine, said the timetable to open air bridges will be followed provided there are no further Covid-19 outbreaks. He told The Sun: "The first phase will be Europe, and the second phase from August will be more long haul, with the Caribbean, Dubai and Morocco included." He also said "there is no way" restrictions will be lifted to allow travel to the US and South America as they are not considered safe yet. Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Croatia, Italy and Switzerland have reopened borders with no quarantine requirements for Britons. It comes as Britain's Covid-19 alert level has been reduced from four to three.
PA Media (PA Graphic)
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has previously confirmed that the Government is looking to introduce air bridges with certain countries. On Radio 4's Today Programme, he said: "That's the plan. The quarantine policy is important because there are some countries around the world where this virus is not under control, however, there's other countries where it may be safe to be able to not have a quarantine in place.
"So ahead of the formal review of the quarantine arrangements on the 29th of June, I'm working with Grant Shapps on whether there are countries that have a low rate of infection where we can come to an agreement on a travel corridor." The Health Secretary refused to give a date on when the controversial test and trace app would be made available, but said the Government is “going to make it work”. Speaking to ITV’s Robert Peston on Wednesday night about how the app will work, Mr Hancock said people will have to “self-declare” to the NHS if their phone informs them they have been close to someone who has tested positive.
He said: “I’m not going to put a date on it, I want it to work, I’m really glad now that we’ve got Apple, are working really well, and I’m very grateful to them for coming to the table, and we’re going to make it work.” Asked if he supported a 'what have we learned' inquiry into the UK’s handling of the pandemic, Mr Hancock said: “Well, we’re constantly doing that sort of thinking … I haven’t seen that proposal … All I care about is constantly finding out what works, and adapting our response to it, because we are still learning about this virus.”
Short-haul trips are set to be opened up reasonably quickly, including Germany despite the recent surge in cases.
Long-haul destinations, including the USA, will take longer.
Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph reported the Government will announce next week that pupils will not be expected to adhere to social distancing while in school. Schools will instead be asked to focus on introducing strict hygiene regimes and limiting the time children mix with others outside their class or year group. Responding to the article, the Department for Education said it would publish “further information and guidance next week to help schools prepare for a full return in September”. Health leaders however, have called for an urgent review to ensure Britain is properly prepared for the “real risk” of a second wave of Covid-19.
Images Kevan James unless otherwise stated
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