'Further blow to aviation sector'

Unite reiterates call for government to support aviation sector as new hotel quarantine system announced

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Unite has reiterated its call for the government to support the aviation sector as home secretary Priti Patel announced a new hotel quarantine system for arrivals from high-risk countries.

Patel announced on Wednesday afternoon (January 27) the new system, where British citizens and residents returning to the UK from specific ‘red list’ countries such as South Africa and Brazil would be required to quarantine in a hotel for ten days at their own expense.

The Evening Standard reported that those forced to quarantine will likely be put up in budget hotels arranged by the government for a flat fee of around £600 including food and accommodation.

The plan has been adopted to stop other Covid-19 variants from entering and spreading in the UK, some of which may pose a threat to the success of the current vaccination programme underway. The new system is expected to take weeks before it is up and running.

While travel to and from the 22 ‘red-list’ countries is already banned, the government cannot refuse entry to British citizens or residents returning home from the UK from these at-risk countries. The hotel quarantine system has in part been introduced over fears that those who are asked to quarantine at home voluntarily after arriving from the red-list countries are not doing so.

Making the announcement, Patel said, “It is clear that there are too many people coming in and out of our country each day. Today I am announcing further action to strengthen the health measures that we already have at the border to reduce passenger flow so that only a small number of people, for whom it is absolutely essential to travel, are doing so.”

Patel said the government would strengthen checks on those requiring to self-isolate, and that those wanting leave the UK must provide a written declaration of why they are traveling. Travel for leisure or holiday is not an acceptable reason.

Speaking to MPs in the Commons today before Patel’s announcement, prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed the new system would soon be introduced.

“I want to make clear that under the stay at home regulations, it is illegal to leave home to travel abroad for leisure purposes,” he said. “And we will enforce this at ports and airports by asking people why they are leaving and instructing them to return home if they do not have a valid reason to travel.

“We have also banned all travel from 22 countries where there is a risk of known variants including South Africa, Portugal and South American nations,” he added. “And in order to reduce the risk posed by UK nationals and residents returning home from these countries, I can announce that we will require all such arrivals who cannot be refused entry to isolate in government provided accommodation, such as hotels, for 10 days without exception.”

Responding to the new hotel quarantine system, scientists said it may not be effective unless it applies to all countries.

Christina Pagel, a professor and member of the independent Sage group of experts, told the Guardian that the new measures would be “enough to damage the economy but not nearly enough to be effective against Covid”.

Unite has said that the new hotel quarantine system will further suppress air travel at a time when the aviation sector is already on its knees.

To prevent further damage to the industry, Unite has called on the government to make good on its promises to throw the sector a meaningful lifeline. Nearly a year ago last spring chancellor Rishi Sunak had pledged sector-specific support for aviation but so far the industry continues to wait.

In September, the government announced that it would be establishing an Aviation Recovery Plan which would be published in the autumn, but again, this has not seen the light of day.

Commenting, Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said, “The government’s intention to introduce quarantine hotels for some passengers may assist with its public health challenges but it cannot be introduced without recognising this is a further blow to the aviation sector.

“We have no idea how long the policy will be in place or whether its scope may need to be extended in the future,” she added.

“While such policies are in place the aviation sector will face a sustained delay in recovery.

“The aviation industry, its workers and the communities who rely on it are crying out for the government to come forward with a joined up approach to protect jobs, airports and routes.

“The government first promised sector specific support over 10 months ago and it has so far failed to deliver,” Holland continued.

“With the furlough scheme set to end in the spring, unless the government steps in soon thousands of more jobs are set to be needlessly lost.

“Once the most intense impact of the pandemic is over, the aviation industry, which is critical for the UK’s connectivity and economic success, will quickly begin to recover. But it will only do so if the government provides the support aviation needs in order to survive during this crisis.”

Unite is calling for the government to adopt a sectorial plan for aviation which will encompass the economic and fiscal measures needed to support the aviation sector.

This includes the extension of, and modifications to, the coronavirus job retention scheme beyond April to protect employment in the aviation sector.

Unite is also calling for public service obligation routes to ensure regional connectivity; business rate relief for airports (as in Scotland and Northern Ireland); and an extension of the period of repayment of loans to aviation companies beyond the current two year maximum.

The full list of measures can be found on Unite’s urgent autumn/winter update to its ‘Flying into the Future’ blueprint, which was first published in May in response to the coronavirus crisis.

By Hajera Blagg

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