As Britain’s airlines and travel firms wait with increasing desperation to hear when foreign holidays might begin, the transport secretary has given few details of how the controversial quarantine measures might be eased.
At present the Foreign Office warns against all but essential travel abroad. Anyone who ignores the advice and goes overseas faces two weeks of self-isolation when they return home, along with inbound tourists and business travellers.
The blanket quarantine rules have stifled bookings for inbound and outbound travel businesses, and have been blamed for job losses.
The policy is due to be reviewed on 29 June.
In a bid to limit the damage to the travel industry caused by the quarantine policy, the Department for Transport is negotiating “air bridges” or “travel corridors” – reciprocal no-quarantine deals signed with key destination countries.
On Wednesday 24 June, Grant Shapps told MPs on the Transport Select Committee that “international travel corridors” will be part of the solution.”
The transport secretary refused to say how many countries will be covered. Spain, France, Portugal, Italy and Greece are expected to be part of the “first wave” of agreements, with foreign travel expected to start on 4 July – by which stage the Foreign Office warning will be eased.
Most European countries are opening up to international tourism on 1 July.
Mr Shapps did give some details of the tests that the government is applying to judge if a country is worthy of a travel corridor deal.
Besides the level and trajectory of coronavirus cases, he said a key measure was: ”Do they have something equivalent to our NHS track and trace, test and trace system?
“Does the country have that kind of capability? Do they have the testing capability that we have?”
“And then what are their social distancing rules? Do they have measures in place as strict as ours?
“I don’t want to be evasive on it, but I don’t want to give people false hope.”
Simon Jupp, the Conservative MP for East Devon, said the quarantine policy “is just killing the aviation industry”.
He told Mr Shapps: “I checked Exeter airport, which is based in my constituency. There are no scheduled flights today.
“That’s a disaster, and clearly not sustainable. How much of a priority are these travel corridors in your workload?”
The transport secretary said: “Massively. I understand entirely the pain that aviation is going through.”
He said that the chief medical officer had told him at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis that quarantine was not “a solution” at that point.