Hopes for foreign holidays this summer have been revived after sources claimed Boris Johnson was looking at relax the government’s controversial quarantine plan with air bridges.
From next week, people coming into the UK from abroad will have to quarantine for 14 days to stop the spread of coronavirus.
But with business chiefs warning this will wreck the travel and hospitality industry, the Prime Minister is pushing for quarantine-free ‘travel corridors’ or air bridges to popular destinations. These would allow British families to go abroad and foreign tourists to come here.
A Downing Street source said: ‘We will be guided by the science, but the PM does not want to be standing in the way of people’s holidays unnecessarily.’
Ministers are also looking at whether to test travellers on their arrival in the UK – removing the need for automatic self-isolation. The 14-day quarantine scheme will be reviewed on June 29 to see whether low case numbers in some destinations might allow the measures to be relaxed on a country-by-country basis.
Leading travel operators still fear they will have to lay off 60 per cent of their staff, however.
The news came as it emerged that nearly every country popular with Britons as a summer holiday destination has a lower coronavirus infection rate than the UK.
The UK currently has more cases of coronavirus per million people than most of the 15 most popular holiday destinations for Britons.
Only the US and Portugal have a higher infection rate with places like France, Spain, Greece and Italy all drastically lower than Britain.
The data is sure to fuel the anger of opponents of the quarantine, after some 124 chief executive and owners of businesses worth a combined £5billion said they expect to make up to 60 per cent of their staff redundant if the scheme goes ahead.
Details of the quarantine scheme, which is due to come into force on Monday June 8 were expected to be revealed to MPs yesterday.
But Downing Street confirmed that Home Secretary Priti Patel is now expected to unveil them later today, fuelling suggestions that some sort of compromise could be on the cards.
In other developments to Britain’s coronavirus crisis:
- A report revealed how age, ethnicity and obesity dramatically increase the risk of dying from coronavirus;
- The House of Commons was branded an ’embarrassing shambles’ as MPs queued for half a mile to vote;
- It emerged that Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty had resisted the political pressure to lower Britain’s official coronavirus alert level;
- Figures revealed that nearly 20,000 hospital patients were discharged into care homes without being tested during the first weeks of lockdown;
- At least 25 residents died in just one care home; Ministers have changed the law meaning reviews of the lockdown will take place every 28 days, instead of every 21;
- Official figures showed the numbers dying each week have fallen back to levels last seen in late March;
- Oxford professor Carl Heneghan predicted there could be no coronavirus deaths by late June or early July;
- Leaked figures showed the new track-and-trace system identified only half of contacts in its first three days;
- A study suggested that most prospective students want the start of the academic year delayed in order to secure more face-to-face teaching at university.
Home Secretary Priti Patel delayed unveiling the government’s new quarantine and travel plans today as MPs and tourism bosses demanded they be thrown out
From Monday, people coming into the UK from abroad will have to quarantine for 14 days to stop the spread of coronavirus
A police officer talking to beach-goers in Italy. The UK has more cases of coronavirus per million people than most of the 15 most popular holiday destinations for Britons – including Italy
A couple hug each other at Misericordia beach in Malaga. Spain has a far lower level of coronavirus infection rate than the UK
Can Britons head off to their favourite destinations on holiday this summer?
How many British visitors each year? 8.5million
Can you visit? No. Its borders are closed to all tourists until June 15 at the earliest. Any foreigner arriving, including Britons, must go into 14-day quarantine.
Is there anything open? Thousands of Britons have second homes in France. Hotels, B&Bs, campsites and gites open for French citizens from June 3. Cafes and restaurants are also open – but in Paris only ones with outside space can serve customers.
How many British visitors each year? 4.3million
Can you visit? Yes. Its borders open from today and there is no mandatory quarantining at all.
Is there anything open? Hotels are slowly opening from today while all campsites are now up and running. Beaches are open with social distancing and bars and restaurants are serving.
How many British visitors each year? 15.6million
Can you visit? No. Spain will open its borders from July 1. There is no quarantine planned but Britain is currently not on its list of agreed visitors because its coronavirus infection and death rates ‘still have to improve’.
Is there anything open? Yes, but still limited options. Beaches are reopening with strict capacity numbers. Many hotels, restaurants and bars remain closed but are slowly reopening to be ready for the end of the month.
How many British visitors each year? 2.8million
Can you visit? No, but probably soon. Borders are open but not currently to Britain. Although the two Governments are expected to agree an ‘air bridge’ meaning citizens can travel between the two nations with no quarantine.
Is there anything open? Yes. Most hotels, B&Bs and campsites are expected to be open in the next fortnight. Beaches are fully open from the weekend onwards. Golf courses are opening too.
How many British visitors each year? 3.9million
Can you visit? No. President Trump banned all EU visitors in mid-March but has said he soon will ‘start to open up’ to Europeans soon. There are still commercial flights between the UK and US.
Is there anything open? New York lockdown is not expected to ease until next week at the earliest – but on the west coast beaches, restaurants and beauty spots are opening. Restrictions vary from state to state.
How many British visitors each year? 2.4million
Can you visit? No. Tourists are banned until mid-June. Border guards will test people arriving from high risk destinations. Mandatory quarantine of seven days is required. And the Greek Government has already said it will not accept flights from 13 UK airports, excluding Heathrow.
Is there anything open? Yes. Hotels, tavernas and bars are open but with restrictions on numbers. Beaches are free to use and ferries still run between islands.
How many British visitors each year? 493,000
Can you visit? No. Only Australian citizens can enter – and they must go into quarantine for two weeks. There are plans to run an air corridor with neighbouring New Zealand from the Autumn.
Is there anything open? Yes. Restaurants and bars can operate with a maximum of 50 people. Pubs are open to diners not drinkers. Some, but not all, beaches are open.
How many British visitors each year? 128,000
Can you visit? Only NZ citizens can jet in – and as in Australia they must quarantine for 14 days on arrival. They will probably reopen an air corridor with Australia and Pacific islands from September.
Is there anything open? As cases plummet, social distancing could end as early as next week – but gatherings will not exceed 100 people. Most businesses, including hotels, are now open.
United Arab Emirates
How many British visitors each year? 1.4million
Can you visit? No. But tourists could be allowed back in from July 1. A 14-day quarantine is likely.
Is there anything open? Yes. Hotels, beaches, shopping centres and parks opened in May but face masks are mandatory.
How many British visitors each year? 440,000 visits a year
Can you visit? No. The South African borders are closed to all visitors. Experts believe this will remain in place until February 2021 with South Africans not allowed to holiday in the country themselves until Christmas.
Is there anything open? No. Wildlife and safari parks, beaches, beauty spots and restaurants are all shut.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said yesterday he was growing ‘more optimistic’ about the prospect of Britons taking holidays abroad this year.
Despite the potential news of a relaxation of the quarantine rules later in the month, the Home Secretary intends to push full steam ahead with the unveiling of the plan later today.
Ms Patel is expected to warn rebellious Conservative MPs that their opposition to the quarantine plan risk alienating the public and throwing away the country’s progress in tackling coronavirus. She will also say that the government ‘owes’ it to all victims of the disease to do what it can to avoid a second peak.
The 14-day quarantine scheme will be reviewed on June 29 to see whether low case numbers in some destinations might allow the measures to be relaxed on a country-by-country basis.
Leading travel operators still fear they will have to lay off 60 per cent of their staff however.
Mr Johnson has been told to drops the plans to force visitors and returning British nationals to self-isolate for 14 days to avoid a ‘catastrophic’ hammer blow to the tourism and hospitality industries.
MPs have also branded the curbs ‘ridiculous’ and ‘pointless’ after it emerged people will be allowed to pop out for food, only a fifth face spot checks, and officials will not be allowed to enter their homes.
Home Secretary Priti Patel last night defended the quarantine plan saying that saving lives and preventing a second peak was the top priority.
‘As we get the virus under control here, we must manage the risk of cases being imported from abroad,’ she said.
‘We owe it to the thousands who’ve lost their lives not to throw away our progress.
‘These measures are informed by science, backed by the public and will keep us all safe.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock earlier hinted at cabinet strife over plans to introduce ‘air bridges’ between the UK and countries with low coronavirus infection rates.
Under that plan, agreements between Britain and countries with low infection rates would allow people from those nations to visit the UK without self-isolating.
Asked about the government’s policy in the evening Downing Street press briefing, Mr Hancock hinted at friction within the cabinet: ‘This air bridge idea has been floated.
‘I know there has been a lot of discussion about it and I know that some countries have been mentioned in the media but that is a piece of work that is being done by the Home office and the DfT and I’m not going to tread on the toes of my colleagues no matter how tempting it is.’
The Health Secretary also said that all measures taken by the government, including those related to travellers, were taken with people’s safety as the key consideration.
The new quarantine rules will allow people subject to the 14-day restrictions to leave their place of isolation for a number of reasons, including shopping for food.
Travellers will also be able to board public transport from the port or airport to where they will quarantine, although they will be encouraged to use private vehicles instead.
But the rules will only be in place for an initial three weeks, with the first review on June 29.
Campaigner George Morgan-Grenville, the chief executive of tour operator Red Savannah, said: ‘By pursuing its quarantine plans without due regard for the economic consequences, the Government is choosing to ignore the devastation it will cause to companies, to employment and to the lives of all those whose jobs will be lost.
‘The quarantine measures are a blunt weapon which will bring only economic disaster.’
Ministers are also facing a major Tory rebellion over the issue.
Whitehall sources said the quarantine plan had been championed by the PM’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings.
But Mr Johnson is said to have been taken aback by the scale of opposition from within his own party.
Meanwhile, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said travellers should not face quarantine unless arriving from a country with a higher infection rate than the UK’s.
A Government spokesman said: ‘Our priority will always be to protect the public’s health and these new measures are being introduced to do exactly this. We have received clear science advice and the quarantine system is designed to keep the transmission rate down, stop new cases being brought in from abroad and help prevent a devastating second wave of coronavirus.
‘We are supporting businesses in the tourism sector through one of the most generous economic packages provided anywhere in the world and we will continue to look at options to increase international travel, when it is safe to do so, as we move forward.’
The rules are due to take effect on Monday, but a there are growing signs the measures will be scaled back again when they are reviewed in three weeks.
The air bridges plan, championed by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, could see restrictions eased on countries like Australia and Greece with low levels of coronavirus.
It offers some hopes of summer holidays for Britons as the nation struggles to get back to normal after months of lockdown.
Ministers are expected to use a five-point assessment to judge which countries could be prioritised for the agreements.
The criteria could include the economic and cultural ties to the UK, the infection rate and the level of health screening at departure airports.
A country’s R rate of infection is likely to be the key factor in whether an air bridge agreement is considered.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock hinted at friction within the cabinet over the government’s travel plans to introduce a quarantine
Just 23 people used Gatwick Airport in an entire day last week – down from its pre-covid average of 45,000
The news comes as MPs urged the government to rethink the 14-day quarantine to avoid killing off the airline industry.
How UK coronavirus cases compare to 15 popular holiday destinations for Britons
Tourism bosses and MPs have discussed air bridges to popular tourist destinations and countries who send large numbers of tourist to the UK.
Here is how the UK’s coronavoirus cases compare to popular nations. The figures are the daily confirmed cases of coronavirus per million people for each country, as of June 1.
UK – 28.52
SPAIN – 4.30
FRANCE – 3.94
ITALY – 5.87
USA – 59.84
GREECE – 0.19
PORTUGAL – 29.13
NETHERLANDS – 10.80
TURKEY – 9.85
IRELAND – 12.35
GERMANY – 3.98
BELGIUM – 16.82
MEXICO – 24.45
MOROCCO – 0.73
AUSTRALIA – 0.39
NEW ZEALAND – 0
Tory MP Henry Smith, whose Crawley constituency covers Gatwick, said low passengers at the airport last week highlighted the scale of the problem.
He said: ‘It’s well-intentioned but it hasn’t been thought through.
‘It sounds good, to stop people at the borders so we don’t get re-infections of Covid-19. But I don’t think it is going to be a benefit to public health and will prolong the economic damage.’
Travel industry experts say quarantine, will cost Britain’s tourism sector as much as £15billion if it is maintained throughout the summer.
Under the plans, people arriving in the UK from Britain, including citizens returning from abroad, will have to self-isolate for two weeks.
There are exemptions for groups including lorry drivers, health workers and scientists.
Spot checks will be carried out on addresses and fines of £1,000 could be imposed on people breaking the rules.
But according to the Guardian, only a fifth of arrivals will be subject to spot checks.
People will be able to give more than one address where they will be self-isolating – and will also be allowed to go out to buy food – including for pets – or medicine.
‘To get caught, you will either have to be unlucky or stupid,’ one source said.
Like the wider lockdown measures, the plans will be reviewed every three weeks.
Former transport minister Stephen Hammond asked what the point of the quarantine was when it could be dodged relatively easily.
The Tory MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that air bridges would be a ‘sensible, targeted response’ between low-risk countries.
‘I think the idea of air bridges are the right way forward,’ he added.
‘I think, as we’ve seen across the world, people are taking measures out of the lockdown and this targeted approach would be a much more sensible way to behave.’
The air bridges idea was first floated by Mr Shapps last month, before being played down by No10 sources.
However, sources told the Telegraph that Mr Johnson is now ‘personally in favour’ of the plan.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, is thought to remain sceptical.
Travel companies are offering up to 65 per cent off summer holidays – but tourism experts are warning Britons the trips may not end up going ahead.
The bargain packages are being advertised on booking sites for as early as July in a bid to salvage the season.
It came as last night the holiday dreams of millions of Britons were given a boost after Portugal and Greece said they were ready to welcome back UK tourists within days.
Tui, Britain’s biggest tour operator, is cutting three nights all-inclusive at the TUI SUNEO Odessos in Bulgaria on July 10 from £543 per person to £296. And a seven-night trip to Gran Canaria on July 6 has been slashed from £606 to £394.
Travel Zoo is offering two nights in Paris in September for £79 – up to 64 per cent cheaper than usual.
And easyJet Holidays is selling a week-long stay at Anseli Hotel in Rhodes from July 8 for £195 with flights and transfers.
But experts have warned desperate Britons to hold off booking for now.
The Foreign Office still advises against all but essential travel and there will be a two-week quarantine for returning holidaymakers from June 8.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: ‘If consumers are keen to book something now they should go into it with their eyes open.
‘If the FCO advice is still in place when their holiday is due to take place, they will get a refund, but there’s a good chance they will be waiting a long time.
‘Holiday providers need to make it clear to their customers that these holidays may not take place.’
The UK quarantine will be reviewed every three weeks. TUI spokesman Liz Edwards said they hope it will be lifted on June 29 in time for summer trips.
She added: ‘We believe we will be having summer holidays this year, hopefully from July. We hope the quarantine will be lifted, but air bridges are certainly a possibility.
‘Bookings have been really picking up. Spain, Greece, Cyprus are likely to open up first. The Canaries and Balearics are keen to welcome back tourists.’
Airlines are also heavily discounting flights. A Heathrow to Cancun return with Air France in September, which usually sells for around £800, is being advertised for £312.
And return flights from Manchester to Reykjavik with easyJet in November are being sold for £41 (usually £150 plus), and Manchester to Dubrovnik with Jet2 from £30 one-way in late June (usually around £120).
Emma Coulthurst, from TravelSupermarket, said: ‘The 14-day quarantine measure makes holidays pretty impractical, although I have heard of some people willing to do it to get a holiday. There is a risk booking now as there is no guarantee the holiday will go ahead.’
Research by TUI revealed the most popular destinations for trips this year are Spain, Greece and Italy followed by Florida and the Caribbean.
AREAS WITH THE MOST AND LEAST COVID-19 DEATHS
According to ONS data for England and Wales up to May 22, these are the areas that had recorded the most and least deaths from the coronavirus:
- Birmingham (1,082)
- Leeds (605)
- County Durham (567)
- Liverpool (529)
- Sheffield (498)
- Brent (465)
- Croydon (458)
- Barnet (442)
- Cheshire East (417)
- Bradford (416)
- Isles of Scilly (0)
- City of London (5)
- Ceredigion (7)
- Hastings (8)
- South Hams (12)
- Rutland (15)
- Mid Devon (15)
- West Devon (15)
- Norwich (17)
- Mendip (18)
And those hoping to go to Greece or Portugal this summer could still get the chance.
Officials in Lisbon believe Britain has coronavirus ‘under control’ and want quarantine-free travel between the two countries to restart from this Saturday.
Greece’s tourism minister Harry Theocharis told the Mail the epidemic was moving ‘in the right direction’ in the UK and restrictions could be dropped for Britons from June 15.
The interventions increased pressure on Downing Street to re-think its plan for a ‘blanket’ 14-day quarantine amid a growing backlash from MPs at being denied a vote on the measures.
Ms Patel will now introduce the regulations in Parliament to come into effect from next Monday.
But they will be brought as a statutory instrument, which does not automatically go to a vote. Tory MPs are expecting the government to give a strong signal on air bridges to head off an outright rebellion.
Under the plans, anyone entering the country by plane, train or boat will have to go into quarantine for two weeks.
This will apply to foreign tourists as well as Britons returning from abroad.
However, some people, including medical professionals and lorry drivers, will be exempt.
MPs among a cross-party group of at least 40 who are critical of the plans last night voiced their fury.
They want the Government to leave open the option of creating ‘air bridges’ – which would allow tourists between two countries to visit without needing to quarantine – to salvage as much of the summer holiday season as possible and help keep the hard-hit tourism industry afloat.
They say, instead of quarantine, arrivals to the UK could be subject to health checks or testing.
Industry chiefs say millions of Britons are desperate for a foreign getaway, but the blanket quarantine policy has all but cancelled summer holidays.
Former Cabinet minister David Davis said: ‘Parliament should be properly involved and quite plainly it is not. In this particular case, its very blanket policy could reasonably be amended in a number of ways.
‘For example, our death rate is many, many times than that in Greece. So the idea of quarantining someone coming from Greece who would have a much lower risk of suffering from the disease than someone anywhere else in Britain is plainly not supported by any sort of science.
‘The idea of putting in air bridges might be a sensible amendment.’
Former environment secretary Theresa Villiers said: ‘I would very much prefer the quarantine rules be targeted on flights from Covid hotspots.
‘I appreciate why the Government is bringing in quarantine but I do think that applying it in a blanket way across the board is an over-reaction.’
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, said: ‘I hope the Government will move swiftly to introduce air bridges and also to introduce a testing regime at airports as quickly as possible.’
Downing Street last night insisted it still intended to push ahead with the policy.
It has stressed quarantine will be reviewed every three weeks and has left open the possibility of striking air bridge deals in future.
But the first review period would not be until June 29.
It comes as a leading expert predicted today that Britain is on track to have zero Covid-19 deaths by July – as health chiefs announced 324 more coronavirus fatalities.
Professor Carl Heneghan, an Oxford University epidemiologist, expects no ‘excess deaths’ when weekly data taking into account suspected and confirmed deaths is published next Tuesday.
The week ending May 22 had the fewest coronavirus deaths of any seven-day period since Britain’s lockdown began in March. The Office for National Statistics showed that 1,983 people died in England and Wales in the week ending May 22, down from 2,766 a week earlier
The weekly death toll in England and Wales dropped to its lowest levels since the lockdown began, an Office for National Statistics (ONS) report said today. A total of 1,983 people in England and Wales died with Covid-19 in the week ending May 22, down almost 30 per cent in a week and the lowest figure for two months.
Both England and Wales – which suffered 16,000 deaths during the darkest fortnight of the crisis in April – are now en route to the way they were before the unprecedented lockdown was imposed on March 23.
But sobering statistics also show that there have now been nearly 50,000 people killed by Covid-19 across the UK this year, cementing Britain’s position as one of the worst-hit countries in the world. And other estimates looking at ‘excess deaths’ – deemed the most reliable measure to work out the true scale of an infectious disease outbreak – show 62,000 more fatalities were recorded during the pandemic than expected.
It comes as the UK Government this week starts to move the nation out of lockdown and back to work and school as the number of new deaths and cases continue to tumble.
Department of Health figures today revealed the official death toll has jumped to 39,369 – an increase of 324 on yesterday. For comparison, 111 fatalities were registered yesterday, as well as 134 last Tuesday – a figure much lower than expected due to a recording lag on the bank holiday Monday.
At this evening’s press Downing Street press conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the trend for daily infections is ‘broadly down but there is still some way to go’, as the total number of positive tests neared 278,000.
Mr Hancock said the number of new admissions for Covid-19 in England has fallen to the lowest since March 20, and demonstrates progress against the disease. Daily admissions are down seven per cent since last Tuesday.
The Department of Health revealed 324 more people had died across all settings.
Each nation’s health agency reported their own figures earlier today – including 12 in Scotland, seven in Wales and two in Northern Ireland. These figures do not always match with the DH count because of a difference in how they are recorded.
Today’s official Government figure, which brings the total closer to 40,000, is 68 per cent lower than the Tuesday a fortnight ago, when 545 deaths were recorded following a lag in reporting over the bank holiday.
Processes for recording people’s deaths are known for slowing down and even stopping at the weekends and on bank holidays, meaning there is a dip every Monday, followed by surges on Tuesdays.
The weekly report from ONS said there were 12,288 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending May 22, known as ‘Week 21’.
This was 2,285 less than the previous week – but still 2,348 more than usual for this time of year.
Professor Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, University of Oxford said he expects deaths to be back to normal by next week.
Asked during a Science Media Centre briefing whether he expects deaths from Covid-19 to stop or plateau, Professor Heneghan said: ‘If the trends continue, the deaths look like they will be back to where they should be normally by next week.
‘There’s been a continued reduction in hospital deaths, care home outbreaks are coming down so the ‘all deaths’ by (week) 22 I’m expecting will be back to where we should be.’
Professor Heneghan said there may be no Covid-19 deaths by the end of June – which would follow Spain yesterday. Italy is still reporting between 50 and 100 deaths per day, and France around 30.
‘But it also depends on what happens next, within sporadic outbreaks,’ Professor Heneghan said.
He warned that there will be spikes in deaths with further outbreaks in care homes, and said information on how many people are catching the virus in hospital would ‘give us a really good understanding of the spreading of this disease’.
Professor Kevin McConway, emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University, said: ‘I certainly don’t want to be a prophet of gloom, but I would urge some caution about these positive trends.
‘The new week’s data would not yet have been affected by the loosening of the lockdown. That began to happen in the previous week (ending 15 May), though most changes occurred much more recently.
‘If any of the changes turn out to have increased infections, that won’t show up in death statistics yet anyway, because obviously there is a time gap between infection and death. But we’ll see eventually.’