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We need a flightpath, not just a roadmap, to recovery
8 June 2020
The Government has announced a roadmap out of the lockdown, but there’s still no flightpath. Today the situation deteriorated with the introduction of blanket quarantine requirements for anyone arriving into the UK. And there will be no recovery without international travel – for both people and goods. This is true throughout the global economy, but it is particularly acute for an island nation like the UK.
Over 1.5 million jobs across the UK are supported by air transport and more than 40% of our trade with non-EU countries travels by plane. There are whole sectors of the economy that simply won’t get back to full strength without thriving air connections: Britain’s manufacturers who rely on air connections to export goods; our world-class universities who get around £5 billion a year from international students; and the tourist industry that accounts for more than 7% of the UK economy. These are some of the UK’s world-beating businesses and they need a clear plan to get flying again.
As we move into the recovery phase, the Government will increasingly need to differentiate between different industries and different risks. Some companies will get back to work with relatively little difficulty once lockdown is properly lifted. Others will take months, if not years, to recover. For the industries that will take longer, uncertainty will compound the problems caused by Covid-19. That’s why the Government needs a clear flightplan for international travel, to accompany its existing roadmap for unlocking.
The flightplan will need to be risk-based. This is the principle that has always underpinned international connections to and from the UK. But, since Covid-19 struck, this principle has been abandoned in favour of indiscriminate and indefinite advice not to travel internationally. Now the Government has introduced a 14-day quarantine period for anyone entering the country. For as long as this blanket scheme is in place, there won’t be many travellers willing to make the trade off and aviation will remain largely grounded.
A risk-based flightplan would have two fundamental pillars. Outbound passengers need Foreign Office travel advice to revert to being issued on a case-by-case basis. This has important implications for the validity of travel insurance, and for airline scheduling. With the exception of some Pacific islands and repressive regimes with unreliable data reporting, Covid-19 has been recorded in every country on earth. But it has not struck evenly. Outbreaks have occurred at different times, and spread with different speeds and severities. Government travel advice should reflect this as soon as possible.
Similarly, for those arriving into the UK, there should be a more intelligent and nuanced approach. The concept of bilateral deals between low-risk countries, with reliable healthcare measures, has emerged as a solution. The Transport Secretary has referred to them as “air bridges” (despite the fact that such deals should apply equally to services across, and under, the Channel) whilst others have described them as “corridors.” The name is not important, the principle is.
The details will not be simple, but they are worth the effort. These deals will need to take into account the origin of the plane, train, or ferry arriving into the UK as well as any other countries that the individuals on board have visited recently. Some may have been reliably tested before departure, whilst others will need a thorough health screening on arrival. And yes, some will need to be quarantined. But by using risk, rather than fear, as the underlying principle, we can start to return to some limited form of normality and international connectivity can once again play its full and vital role in supporting the UK economy.
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