UK govt imposes new travel quarantine rules

- A Monitor Desk Report 18 May, 2020 | 1195 Views|-+
Dhaka: In an effort to prevent imported coronavirus cases infecting the population, the government of the United Kingdom has recently announced in its COVID-19 Recovery Strategy document that a two-week quarantine period for people arriving in the country will be introduced "as soon as possible".

If international travellers cannot say where they plan to self-isolate, they will do so in accommodation arranged by the government. The rules will apply not just to air passengers, but also to those arriving by ferry or train.

There will be some exemptions for people arriving from the Republic of Ireland as part of the Common Travel Area. But there will also be further exemptions to allow "continued security of supply into the UK" and to support national security and critical infrastructure requirements.

Industry body Airlines UK said the policy would need "a credible exit plan" and should be reviewed weekly. UK airports fear the measures will have devastating impact on their industry and the wider economy.

Fly if necessary

In its latest travel guidance, the government recommends only travelling when absolutely necessary. However, passengers displaying any symptoms of coronavirus should not travel.

International travellers should consult the latest FCO travel advice, and check the guidance from their destination country. They should discuss their specific plans with their airline and inform their travel insurance provide before they fly.

Onboard social distancing

The government guidance says all flight passengers should remain 2m (6ft) apart from other people wherever possible. Passengers should also follow guidance from their travel operator about where to stand or sit during their journey.

However, social distancing is a massive challenge for airports and airlines, with Heathrow Chief John Holland-Kaye saying it is "physically impossible".

Aer Lingus said it would review its procedures following a claim it did not maintain social distancing among passengers on a Belfast-London flight.

Most seats were occupied on the Belfast-Heathrow flight, despite government guidance people should stay two metres apart.

EasyJet has said it plans to keep the middle seats on planes empty for a time. Emirates and the US airline Delta have announced similar plans.

But Michael O'Leary, Chief of Ryanair, has said empty seats do not ensure safe social distancing and are financially unviable.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), the body representing global airlines, claimed leaving the middle seat empty would not improve passenger safety. It added that most airlines would not have made money last year if a third of the seats had been removed.

Face masks, gloves and temperature checks

The government is now recommending that all flight passengers should consider wearing a face covering. People travelling through Manchester, Stansted and East Midlands airports have already been told to cover their faces and wear gloves.

Passengers will be given face coverings and gloves initially. Airport staff will also wear them.

Some temperature screening trials will also be conducted at Stansted. Heathrow, one of the world's busiest airports, is already trialling large-scale temperature checks.

Chief executive John Holland-Kaye has called for a common international standard for health screening at airports "to build confidence in international travel".

Air France said passengers will be temperature checked before flying from May 11. The carrier is also making face masks compulsory - similar to several US airlines.

Passenger arrivals amid COVID-19

Far fewer people have been flying since the Foreign Office advised against international travel.

Between April 16 and 22, for example, the number of air passengers coming into the UK was 99 per cent lower than the same period in 2019.

American Airlines said social distancing had been possible "for all passengers", suggesting that its aircraft have a lot of empty seats. And Virgin Atlantic said many of its flights in April were only a quarter full.

Meanwhile, Ryanair carried 40,000 passengers in April - down from 13.5 million in the same month last year.

The airline has said it plans to reintroduce 40 per cent of its flights from July 1, subject to travel restrictions being lifted and safety measures being brought in at airports. It will operate nearly 1,000 flights a day, bringing back nearly all of its pre-COVID-19 route network.

British Airways is reviewing its plans to run 50 per cent of its schedule from July, because of new quarantine rules.

Easyjet said that it "does not currently have a date for restarting flights," but was keeping the situation under review. "We remain hopeful we will be flying over the summer," the company added.

Safety during air travel

It is a common belief that a passenger while flying is more likely to become ill on an airplane, because he would be breathing "stale" air. However, according to the World Health Organisation, the quality of air in a plane cabin is very carefully controlled and changed up to 30 times an hour.

On the other hand, there is a greater likelihood of the virus being transmitted if passengers are close together - usually as a result of an infected individual coughing, sneezing or touching surfaces. But this is the same as in any other situation in which people are close to each other, such as on a train or a bus.

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