Compulsory quarantine for all UK arrivals would mean the loss of another summer season for the industry, the former transport secretary had told parliament.
Chris Grayling was speaking in a debate after Labour called on the government to introduce compulsory hotel quarantine for all arrivals to the UK instead of from the 33 destinations currently proposed.
“The issue is not about whether we can give people the chance to sun themselves on a beach; it is about the future of a sector that is crucial to our economy and that simply cannot cope with the loss of a second summer season in a row,” he said.
Grayling said a solution was lateral flow tests, which were used to prevent infection in nursing homes.
“So why are they not the cornerstone of our strategy to open up airports and other means of travel; not right now, because the current restrictions are necessary, but as part of a plan to reopen the sector properly later this spring?
“Test people before they depart and test people on arrival. That way, we should not need to quarantine people. If a test result can show infection at the point of arrival and we can back that up with a properly policed quarantine system, there really is no reason why travel cannot reopen later this spring for a proper summer season.”
Under-secretary of state for health and social care Jo Churchill said a flexible, rather than “one-size-fits-all approach” was needed, but added: “Our stay-at-home regulations are clear: it is illegal to leave home to travel abroad for leisure purposes. Going on holiday is not a valid reason for travel.”
She said the aviation sector had already received £3 billion through the Covid corporate finance scheme and the job retention scheme.
Tory Huw Merriman said he was “very disappointed” with Labour’s position. “The measure would decimate the aviation industry,” he said.
“What has become clear from New Zealand and Australia is that once we bring in this policy, it would be difficult to move away from it. Those countries have no plans to do so for this year. The aviation industry is on its knees. This is the last thing that it needs.”
Robert Courts, transport under-secretary, concluded: “No one should be fooled that a blanket approach, as we are having urged upon us today, would work.
"We have to look at what it would achieve. We have only to look at the United States, which closed its borders entirely in the early stages of this crisis and now has one of the worst pandemic experiences in the world, to see how vain that hope could be.”