People returning to the UK from countries with lower rates of coronavirus infection could be exempted from the country’s two-week quarantine on arrival requirement.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps confirmed ministers were engaged in "active discussions" around the proposal during a House of Commons debate on Monday (18 May).
The concession came as Shapps confirmed full details of the UK’s quarantine measures, announced on 10 May by prime minister Boris Johnson, would be released – and enforced – in June.
It will initially be applied as a blanket measures covering all arrivals and will be reviewed on a three-week basis meaning it will likely be enforced for much of next month.
However, Shapps hinted the rules could be relaxed, potentially to place a more targeted focus on countries with higher rates of Covid-19 infection.
So-called "air bridges" allowing those travelling to the UK to forego the country’s quarantine requirements was raised in the Commons by Huw Merriman, chairman of the government’s transport committee.
The idea was seized on by the national press on Monday evening as a potential lifeline for overseas summer holidays this summer, with the prospect of a two-week quarantine upon return from a holiday – and fines in excess of £1,000 for any breaches – previously though to have dashed any realistic hopes of even a limited summer holiday season.
"The secretary of state will be aware the aviation industry is a sector in need of support," said Merriman. "Will he consider air bridges so those entering the UK from countries where the infection rate is below one would not be subject to quarantine? This would boost confidence in aviation travel and target safety where it is most needed."
Shapps responded by confirming "final details" of the UK’s quarantine scheme would be released and enforced next month, adding: "We should indeed consider further improvements – for example, air bridges enabling people from other countries that have achieved lower levels of coronavirus infection to come to the country."
However, Shapps said discussions around air bridges were "active" and "go beyond what will initially be a blanket [quarantine] situation".
Contrary to the government’s stance shortly after Johnson’s quarantine announcement, France will not be exempt; the only exemptions will apply to visitors arriving from the Common Travel Area, which includes all four UK nations, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.