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Families hoping for an overseas summer holiday have been given a glimmer of hope after Grant Shapps floated the idea of “air bridges” between the UK and countries with a low incidence of Covid-19.
The transport secretary told MPs on Monday the government “should consider” proposals to allow exemptions to its plans to impose a 14-day quarantine on all incoming travellers through ports and airports.
The quarantine for all travellers, apart from Ireland, is set to come into force from “early next month”, Shapps said.
Backers of the proposals - which will not affect most freight lorry drivers - insist they are needed to prevent the import of further infection from overseas.
But the plan has faced opposition from business, from the aviation and travel industry and from those who hoped they could get a European break later this summer.
In the Commons, Shapps revealed the scale of the economic impact, stating that there are 43,500 furloughed airline staff, with a further 2,600 at airports.
He was pushed by Tory transport select committee chairman Huw Merriman to consider the idea of “air bridges”, so that those arriving from countries with a Covid-19 reproduction number (R) of less than 1 could avoid quarantine.
“This would boost confidence in the aviation and travel industry and target safety where it is most needed,” Merriman said.
Some European countries such as Greece have had a relatively small number of Covid-19 cases but are desperate for foreign tourism.
Shapps, who said that final details of the quarantine scheme will be released “soon” and “come in early next month”, signalled that some nations could be over time exempted from the 14-day quarantine.
“It is the case that we should indeed consider further improvements for example things like air bridges enabling people from other areas, other countries who have themselves achieved lower levels of coronavirus infection to come to the country.
“Those are active discussions that will go beyond what will initially be a blanket situation.”
Hopes of easier travel to and from France rose earlier this month when No.10 said that a reciprocal deal was being worked on with President Macron. However there has since been a big push within the government and the Tory party to impose the quarantine on France too.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said last week that ‘big, lavish international holidays’ were not going to be possible this summer, but some had hoped that European trips would be possible given the rapidly lowering coronavirus case numbers across the continent.
Airline boss Willie Walsh has warned that the plan would “seriously set back recovery plans for our industry”, while Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary said on Monday that the quarantine was “idiotic” and “unimplementable”.
Ryanair announced last week that it will operate nearly 1,000 flights per day from July 1 subject to European countries lifting flight restrictions and “effective public health measures” being put in place at airports.
In answer to Labour’s transport shadow minister Mike Kane, Shapps said that the government “absolutely will bring forward enormous amounts of support to aviation businesses”, adding he was “acutely aware of the job losses”
“It is true to say, of course, airlines and aviation in general is facing a particularly hard time – first in to this crisis and with quite a long tail, we think, to come out of it,” he said.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.