Downing Street is eyeing exempting some countries from plans to quarantine people coming to Britain, amid growing anger among Conservative MPs about the damage such controls will cause to the UK travel and hospitality industries.
Boris Johnson’s allies confirmed Number 10 was considering whether “transport corridors” could be created between Britain and countries with low rates of coronavirus infection, under which people arriving from those nations would not have to adhere to the 14-day self-isolation period.
The UK travel and hospitality sectors have warned that the quarantine plan — due to take effect from June 8 — will further damage their industries, which have already been hit hard by the virus crisis.
Home secretary Priti Patel will this week lay regulations before parliament to introduce the quarantine arrangements, and there were signs of growing Tory unrest about the plan as MPs prepared to return to Westminster on Tuesday after weeks spent in their constituencies because of the virus.
Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs, said: “It would be senseless to introduce a blanket quarantine, including travel from countries with very low — or no — Covid-19 infection.
“It would be wise to announce exemptions for such countries at the same time the quarantine is launched.”
He added he also “hoped” ministers were making plans for Covid-19 testing people at UK airports as an alternative.
Former cabinet minister David Davis said the quarantine plan sent “a terrible signal to the rest of the world” that Britain was isolating itself further while other countries emerged from lockdown.
The government’s plan has gone down well with the public, according to opinion polls. A YouGov survey found that 80 per cent of people supported the proposal to fine travellers £1,000 if they failed to self-isolate for 14 days after entering the UK.
But government officials are working to see if transport corridors — also dubbed air bridges — could be created between the UK and countries with low rates of virus infection.
The quarantine arrangements will be reviewed after three weeks, and this could provide an opportunity for the UK to introduce exemptions for certain nations.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps and business secretary Alok Sharma have argued against the measures, and Mr Johnson will be aware of discontent among Conservative MPs after the controversy about his chief adviser Dominic Cummings’ actions during lockdown.
More than 290 travel and hospitality company bosses in the UK have signed a letter due to be sent Ms Patel, warning that the quarantine proposals are “unworkable, poorly thought-out and already damaging sales in the travel industry”.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said the plan could put more than 1.2m jobs in the UK hospitality and travel sectors at risk.
“I hope the government see sense and do it as a short, sharp measure . . . rather than looking for long-term solutions around air bridges,” she added.
The quarantine plan comes at a key time for the UK travel and hospitality sectors, which had hoped to be taking bookings from continental European tourists as countries ease their lockdowns.
“It’s hard to see why people would come to the UK with the threat of quarantine hanging over them,” said Joss Croft, chief executive of UKInbound, a trade body representing British businesses that focus on tourists coming to the UK.
While government officials examine the possibility of transport corridors with other countries, several nations have said they will not accept British tourists until the UK’s virus situation improves.
Maria Reyes Maroto, Spain’s tourism minister, said on Sunday that visitors from Scandinavian countries and Germany were likely to be allowed first into her nation.
Asked about the UK, she replied: “There the health situation still has to improve. For us it is important to guarantee that people arrive healthy and leave healthy.”
The UK is also excluded from Greece’s “white list” of 19 countries from which tourists are welcome. The list includes China, Norway, Poland and Serbia.