The government’s controversial 14-day quarantine on arrival measures are set to be laid before ministers on Tuesday (2 June) amid national media reports the policy, due to come into force next Monday (8 June) could be watered down in a matter of weeks in favour of so-called "air bridges".
Several national papers, including The Times (Scotland) and The Guardian, report the government is looking at air bridges – bilateral agreements with countries with lower rates of coronavirus infection – which would allow UK nationals returning to the country to forego 14 days’ mandatory self-isolation.
While the UK’s quarantine measures are due to become effective in a matter of days, they will be reviewed on a three-week basis; this could potentially allow any series air bridge policy or arrangements to come into force by the end of June.
The Foreign Office continues to advise against all non-essential travel worldwide, but both the FCO and the Home Office is facing significant pressure from the travel sector to review its coronavirus policies, particularly quarantine which has been branded "unworkable and poorly thought-out".
More than 200 travel firms have backed a call to rethink the country’s quarantine policy, which the sector says was "already damaging sales". Dnata Travel Europe chief John Bevan, meanwhile, has called on the FCO to review its effective travel ban as a matter of urgency, claiming it too is a barrier to future travel sales.
The idea of air bridges was first raised in the House of Commons by Huw Merriman, chair of the government’s transport committee, and backed by transport secretary Grant Shapps. Number 10 initially played down the suggestion, but is since understood to have warmed to the idea – according to national press reports.
Ahead of parliament resuming on Tuesday (2 June), several government sources quoted in the national media have suggested an air bridge policy could be in place in time for the mid to latter stages of the summer holiday season, pending the relaxation of the FCO’s travel advice.
It comes after health secretary Matt Hancock last week told ITV’s This Morning he "absolutely would not rule out" people taking foreign holidays this summer, just a fortnight after he told the same show the prospect was unlikely. Hancock said on Thursday (28 May) he was "a bit more optimistic about being able to get some foreign travel back up".
Formal quarantine legislation is set to be laid in parliament on Tuesday (2 June). However, it is expected to be subject to stringent debate in light of the increased prospect of air bridge policy.
Several European nations, notably Portugal and Spain, have said they would be open to discussing air bridges or "safe corridors" for travel in Europe. Spain has called on EU member states to agree common rules on travel during the coronavirus crisis within the Schengen area to ensure consistency.