The heads of leading UK firms reliant on tourism have urged the government to abandon its 14-day quarantine plan for new arrivals, warning it will devastate a large sector of the economy.
More than 70 hotel, travel and other business leaders have written a joint letter to home secretary Priti Patel, arguing that imposed self-isolation will significantly deter travel to the UK as lockdowns ease worldwide. It comes as official figures show just 100 travel, work and other visas to come to the UK were issued in April.
The letter calls the plans “the very last thing the travel industry needs,” warning they may encourage other countries to impose similar quarantine measures on UK travellers abroad.
“The people of this country do not wish to be prevented from travelling,” the letter reads. “Quite simply, it is time to switch the emphasis from protection to economic recovery, before it is too late.”
“There is a glimmer of hope that at least some of the summer business might be salvaged,” it adds. The signatories write that the government should consider so-called ‘air bridges’ between the UK and countries with low rates of COVID-19.
The list includes the leaders of companies that employ thousands of workers across the UK, from the Ritz, Savoy, Dorchester, and Claridges hotels to travel agencies and magazines.
The letter also criticises the government’s handling of the unprecedented wave of refund requests that threaten many firms’ cashflows. “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.”
But the government faced criticism for not taking action early on during the pandemic to deal with potential COVID-19 cases among new arrivals in Britain. Surveys suggest public concerns about the virus and support for tough measures are higher than in many other countries.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “As the world begins to emerge from what we hope is the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, we must look to the future and protect the British public by reducing the risk of cases crossing our border.
“We continue to support businesses in the tourism sector through one of the most generous economic packages provided anywhere in the world. However, it is right that we introduce these new measures now to keep the transmission rate down and prevent a devastating second wave.”
The quarantine rules will be reviewed every three weeks. Officials stress they understand travel firms’ woes and are in talks with the sector, but say measures to save lives must come first.