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UK pioneers ‘air bridges’ to exempt low-risk countries from quarantine

written by Sandy Milne | May 19, 2020

London Heathrow Airport
London’s Heathrow Airport could see arrivals forced to self-isolate. (Heathrow)

British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has indicated that countries with low COVID-19 infection rates may be exempted from quarantine measures set to go into effect in the UK over the coming weeks.

Speaking in the Commons, Secretary Shapps said, “We should indeed consider further improvements, for example, things like air bridges enabling people from other countries who have themselves achieved lower levels of coronavirus infection to come to the country.”

Though Secretary Shapps’ office has not specified a list of countries to which this could refer, the “air bridge” concept has been embraced by the Greek tourism ministry.

Speaking to the BBC’s Coronavirus Newscast, Tourism Minister Harry Theoharis urged the UK not to require Greeks to isolate when they arrive.

At a press conference held last Sunday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially said that the policy will act as a “blanket solution”, applicable to all arrivals.

“I am serving notice that it will soon be the time – with transmission significantly lower – to impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air,” said PM Johnson

However, Whitehall has since indicated that it is in “active discussions” with foreign governments and civil aviation authorities on the subject of providing exemptions to countries with low infection rates.

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According to current British government advice, for example, travellers arriving in the UK from the Republic of Ireland will not be required to self-quarantine.

At earlier stages, the government had indicated that France would likely also receive an exemption,  but has since back-tracked on this point.

“No quarantine measures would apply to travellers coming from France at this stage; any measures on either side would be taken in a concerted and reciprocal manner,” reads a statement posted to the British government’s website on 10 May.

“A working group between the two governments will be set up to ensure this consultation throughout the coming weeks.”

In an apparent volte-face on Friday, a government spokesman said that under new arrangements, no exemption had been granted to France.

Other countries in Europe have proposed similar travel zones. According to the BBC, Greece is already exploring the idea of creating a “safe travel zone” with Israel and Cyprus.

Plans to implement self-quarantine requirements in the UK have drawn the ire of several within the aviation industry. Last week, Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary described quarantine plans as “idiotic”, citing a lack of resources to enforce the orders.

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