The government is open to exploring "travel corridors" or "air bridges" with other countries, which would allow Brits to circumvent the UK’s blanket 14-day self-isolation on arrival requirement.
Writing jointly for The Telegraph ahead of a Commons debate on the UK’s proposed quarantine measures, which are due to come into force on Monday (8 June), home secretary Priti Patel and transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed ministers were working on alternatives to quarantine.
"We are working with the transport industry to see how we can introduce agreements with other countries when safe to do so, so we can go abroad and tourists can come here," they said.
The UK’s quarantine regime will be reviewed on a three-weekly basis; this could therefore allow the government to adopt an air bridge policy by the end of June, allowing quarantine-free travel to certain destinations with lower rates of coronavirus infection.
Portugal has already indicated it is hopeful of agreeing an air bridge with the UK by the end of June with its tourism economy ready to reopen this month.
Any air bridge policy would, however, have to be accompanied by a softening of the Foreign Office’s current travel advice to be effective. The FCO continues to advise against all non-essential travel worldwide for an indefinite period.
“As with all Covid-19 policies, the government will review these and other measures, looking at global infection rates, the measures in place around the world, and the latest scientific advances to consider further options such as international travel corridors," said Patel and Shapps.
However, the pair stressed public health and safety, including efforts to prevent a second coronavirus peak, were their foremost concern, despite pressure from the travel sector for the quarantine policy to be scrapped.
"We will all suffer if we get this wrong, and that is why it is crucial that we introduce these measures now," they said. "Let’s not throw away our progress in tackling this deadly virus. We owe it to the thousands who have died."
More than 300 businesses, responsible for around £5 billion in revenue, have backed a campaign led by Red Savannah chief executive George Morgan-Grenville urging the government to reconsider. But Patel and Shapps insist quarantine will allow tourism to recover quicker.
"By stopping people coming in from spreading the virus further, we can control it and get back to normal sooner – meaning the tourism industry will be up and running faster," they state in their Telegraph editorial, acknowledging tourism will continue to face challenges in the coming weeks.
Their comments refer to Morgan-Grenville’s campaign, which surveyed supporters over the weekend; 94% of respondents said quarantine would wipe out business this summer, while seven in 10 said the likely impact of a quarantine policy this summer would result in them having to make "almost two-thirds" of staff redundant. More than a quarter said they may have to cease trading altogether.