More than 200 travel and hospitality companies have called on the government to change planned quarantine rules, which they say will be unworkable and deeply damaging to their industry.
The companies have joined the aviation sector in a growing backlash against rules due to be introduced from 8 June. All visitors and returning travellers entering the UK will have to quarantine for 14 days and face spot checks and fines for breaching isolation.
Businesses say the announcement of the plans has hit sales. Companies have instead proposed in a letter to the home secretary, Priti Patel, the creation of “air bridges” allowing travel between the UK and countries where coronavirus has been controlled and the risks are low. The potential of such air bridges was mooted by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, but appears to have since been dismissed by the government.
The originator of the letter, George Morgan-Grenville, the chief executive of the tour operator Red Savannah, said: “This is not just a group of company bosses complaining but employees from bottom to top calling for the quarantine plans to be quashed. The extent of their pain is deeply worrying for our economy and our country.”
The companies say there is now “a glimmer of hope” that some portion of the lucrative summer season can be salvaged but that quarantine would deter all travel and probably result in other countries imposing reciprocal regimes on UK visitors.
Signatories include hoteliers and restaurant businesses such as Claridges, the Ritz, and the Connaught, as well as travel companies such as Kuoni, Travelbag, Cosmos and Inghams.
The letter criticises the government for ignoring calls from the sector to impose quarantine restrictions early in the crisis, before Covid-19 was widespread, and failing to adjudicate on how struggling firms should manage customer bookings.
It says: “The government has been woefully slow to react and has procrastinated to the point of absurdity in terms of either providing support for, or ruling against, the concept of refund credit notes.”
The companies have also called on the Foreign Office to review its blanket advice against all non-essential travel, which has prevented bookings of possible future holidays.
A number of Conservative MPs have demanded that the government review its plan, including the Commons transport select committee chair, Huw Merriman, who wants the wholesale rule to be ditched and replaced with measures such as the air bridges, compulsory PPE and temperature testing at airports.
The government said its decisions were based on the latest scientific evidence. Passenger arrivals in the UK were down by 99% in April and certain key workers will be exempt from the rules.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “These cross-government public health measures are designed to keep the transmission rate down, stop new cases being brought in from abroad and help prevent a devastating second wave of coronavirus.
“The list of exemptions has been agreed by all government departments in consultation with their stakeholders, which will ensure critical supplies and services can continue and will be kept under review.”
The International Air Transport Association said research into bookings suggested quarantine would deter travel as much as an outright ban and enhanced safety measures at airports were a better solution.
Iata’s regional vice-president, Rafael Schvartzman, said: “Airlines and airports are putting in place multiple layers of measures to safeguard the health of passengers and crew.
“With the rest of Europe looking to move away from their quarantines and lockdowns, the question has to be asked why the UK government is now moving in the opposite direction.”
Last month the aviation industry and airlines warned that the plans would extend the economic damage from Covid-19.
Airlines UK, which represents large carriers operating in Britain, said the plans “made no sense”.
The Airport Operators Association said the quarantine move was “simplistic” and would have very serious economic and social consequences.