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Softening of quarantine

‘Air bridges’ plan offers prospect of summer holiday

Grant Shapps: ‘we should consider further improvements’

Overseas holidays from the summer remained a possibility after the UK Transport Secretary proposed the idea of “air bridges” connecting the UK with low-risk countries.

Grant Shapps told the Commons that under the plan holidaymakers would be able to travel to foreign resorts and return to Britain without entering quarantine.

His comments come as the Government is expected to confirm a 14-day period of compulsory isolation for anyone arriving from abroad.

Anyone who breaches the quarantine faces a fine of up to £10,000 and it has been seen as effectively killing off summer holidays.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock last week appeared to rule out foreign holidays. Asked if summer was cancelled, he admitted: I think that’s likely to be the case.

“It is unlikely that big, lavish international holidays are going to be possible for this summer. I just think that’s a reality of life.”

But Mr Shapps backed the air bridges idea, floated by senior Tory MP Huw Merriman. He told MPs on Monday night that the plans would be reviewed every three weeks and exemptions with countries with similar levels of the virus could be introduced. It raises the prospect of agreements with Spain, France, Italy and Germany where lockdown measures are being relaxed.

“It is the case we should 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,” said Mr Shapps.

“So, those are active discussions that go beyond what will initially be a blanket situation.”

Michael O’Leary: ‘quarantine is idiotic’

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary described the quarantine plan as “idiotic” and “unimplementable”.

He claimed the proposals have “no medical or scientific basis”, and instead said face masks would “eliminate” the risk of spreading coronavirus.

Ryanair announced last week that it will operate nearly 1,000 flights per day from 1 July, subject to European countries lifting flight restrictions and “effective public health measures” being put in place at airports.

“It’s laughable that this Government can come up with any plans for a quarantine that will be strict and fully enforced when already they are exempting the Irish, the French,” he said.

A two-week lockdown has no medical or scientific basis to it in any event

– Michael O’Leary, Ryanair

“It is idiotic and it’s unimplementable. You don’t have enough police in the UK to implement a two-week lockdown.

“And what’s really worrying is that a two-week lockdown has no medical or scientific basis to it in any event.

“If you really want to do something that’s effective – wear masks.”

UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden suggested the Government would legally enforce the quarantine rules, and said exemptions would be “very limited”.

The roll-out of the coronavirus tracing app has been pushed back, having previously been due to be rolled out in mid-May.

The government said it aims “to roll out the app across the country in the coming weeks”. Meanwhile, the English Premier League announced a return to small group training from today.

Overseas exit strategy

  • Spain: The transport minister said that he hoped tourism activity can start in late June.
  • Germany: Foreign minister Heiko Maas said the country hopes to replace the travel warning in place for all tourist trips abroad until 15 June with less restrictive guidelines.
  • Slovakia: the Prime Minister said shopping malls can open from Wednesday, while the country will partially open schools and pre-school care on 1 June.
  • Italy: Bars, restaurants, shops, hairdressers, museums, libraries and churches all reopened with restrictions on Monday as Italy continues its gradual move out of lockdown.
  • Greece: Shopping malls, and archaeological sites have reopened with restrictions.

Extra bank holiday

UK’s tourism agency Visit Britain has proposed an extra bank holiday in October to partly compensate for those lost in the lockdown.

The idea has been backed by Kate chief executive, Kate Nicholls, who said: “A bank holiday in October may provide a welcome boost for hospitality businesses, not least at a time when consumer confidence will hopefully be returning to healthy levels.”

Scotland confirms exit

The prospect of overseas travel came as lockdown ahead of an announcement in Scotland on Thursday.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that more outdoor activities will be allowed, though schools will remain shut. Some facilities such as garden centres will be allowed to open. She is likely to confirm the changes will come into effect on 28 May.

However, the Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) chairman, James Barnes, said Scotland remains out of step with other countries.

He said: “Scotland is now one of the last countries in Europe to reopen its garden centres. We shared data with the Scottish Government weeks ago that we are  able to reopen safely and in a managed way, so the news that garden centres in Scotland will not be opened until after the 28 May will be deeply frustrating for consumers and garden centres alike. “

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“We will take this up with the Scottish Government immediately and hope they will be reconsider this approach as the medical situation changes.

Mr Barnes is a former boss at Dobbies Garden Centres which has reopened store in England while its facility and head office in Lasswade, near Edinburgh, remains shut.

“By the end of May we will have missed the key trading period for this sector, which will be a huge blow to many businesses, particularly as the rest of the UK has already opened garden centres,” said Mr Barnes.

“As the peak selling season started back in March – with 60% of sales ordinarily driven through independent garden centres – Scottish plant nurseries have suffered a perfect financial storm of perishability and seasonality, meaning huge amounts of stock has had to be disposed of because garden centres have been shut. 

“This means it is more crucial than ever that the Scottish Government supports a Dutch-style grant aid scheme for Scottish plant nurseries to help them survive the current period and prosper in the future.”

A vaccine from Boston-based bio firm Moderna has shown early signs that it can create an immune-system response to the coronavirus.

This was from a Phase One study led by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Moderna said it expects Phase Three trial initiation in July.

Reports indicate China’s oil demand is nearly back to levels seen before the national lockdown, according to Deutsche Bank Research. China is the second-largest oil consumer in the world after the US.

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