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Shapps dashes hopes of airport testing but hopes to reduce quarantine

07 September 2020 by
Shapps dashes hopes of airport testing but hopes to reduce quarantine

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has dashed hopes of airport testing being introduced in a bid to restart inbound tourism, despite fears quarantine restrictions signal the UK is "closed for business".

In statement to the House of Commons today the transport secretary said the government is "working actively on the practicalities of releasing people [from quarantine] earlier than 14 days" but added that a test on arrival option "will not work".

Hoteliers reliant on tourism have stressed the need for an alternative to the two week quarantine period to be found.

Stuart Procter, chief operating officer of the Stafford Collection - comprising the five-red-AA-star, Stafford London hotel in St James, the four-red-AA-star Northcote hotel in Langho, Lancashire, and Norma restaurant in Fitzrovia, said: "Tourism will not pick up until we have quarantine restrictions lifted or we have some form of testing services in the major airports.

"We all have a significant number of individuals from the United Arab Emirates and the United States but they will not travel to us and quarantine for 14 days, that's just a fact.

"We've written to the government as W1 hoteliers [representing 29 five-star hotels in the centre of London] and asked them to do testing and tracking and lift the quarantine on certain parts of the world.

"We need to do something quickly because all the West End luxury hotels are operating on 11% occupancy, with a vastly reduced average rate. That is not sustainable, and the cliff edge is coming closer."

The transport secretary also said the government is unable to introduce regional travel corridors from within geographical boundaries, as data is "too patchy" and there would be "next to nothing to prevent people moving around". However he said islands with clear boundaries present "a real opportunity" and introduced a new travel corridor policy for them.

As a result, islands may be exempt from quarantine restrictions even if mainland areas or not, as well as vice versa, depending on infection rates. While Greece will remain on the UK's list of travel corridors, visitors returning from seven Greek islands including Crete, Mykonos, Santorini, and Zakynthos will have to quarantine from Wednesday morning.

Joss Croft, CEO of UKinbound added: "The UK's quarantine policy continues to signal to the world that the UK is closed for business and although it is positive to see that the government is starting to take a slightly tailored approach, with separate assessments for island destinations, only when extensive changes are made, such as implementing a testing model at airports, will international visitors begin to return. Until then UK businesses that are reliant on international visitors need continued tailored support from government."

The government has reportedly been facing increasing opposition from within the Conservative party over its stance on airport testing, with The Telegraph launching a Test4Travel campaign and The Daily Mail lobbying to Get Britain Flying Again.

Speaking last week, prime minister Boris Johnson said airport testing could offer "a false sense of security" and Shapps insisted airport testing was "not a silver bullet solution", but confirmed in an interview with Sky News that the government was continuing to explore a two-test option which could reduce the length of time travellers were required to self-isolate.

Calls for a hospitality-specific extension of the government's furlough scheme have been renewed as it is estimated three million jobs in the UK could be lost due to the collapse of inbound tourism with the lack of international travel into the UK set to cost the UK economy £22b this year.

Photo: Shutterstock

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