Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye urged the UK government to set out a roadmap for a vaccine roll-out in the country next year, as he pointed in an open letter to the prime minister that since the announcement of stricter measures to restrict the spread of the coronavirus, international travel out of the airport “has effectively been stopped.”
UK prime minister Boris Johnson announced over the weekend stricter COVID-19 measures in London, the South East and East of England amid concerns about the spread of a new strain of the virus which may be up to 70% more transmissible.
This was followed by a host of countries banning UK travel. The list of countries limiting UK travel has now topped 50, dealing a serious blow to the aviation sector.
“Whilst of course we support steps to contain this new strain, the decision to restrict international travel again will further damage the national economy and jeopardise jobs at a time when the UK is looking to rebuild and increase links with the rest of the world after Brexit,” wrote Holland-Kaye.
Along with urging for a vaccine rollout, he said the government must introduce a model for pre-departure testing, focussing on countries which have implemented travel bans on UK arrivals in order to get planes back in the air for vital cargo supplies.
He said “this should be an extraordinary measure” until the travel bans have been relaxed, at which point pre-departures testing should only be in place for ‘high risk’ countries.
He also urged the government to approve the use of rapid testing technology for passengers.
The aviation industry is one of the sectors most impacted by the pandemic. In October it was reported that Heathrow airport lost its status as Europe’s biggest airport, with bosses warning the UK was playing catch-up on coronavirus testing for passengers.
And a recent report stated that global air traffic has seen a significant drop of 60% to 1.8 billion passengers in 2020 in the wake of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, more of the UK is entering harsher Tier 4 restrictions as COVID-19 infections rise rapidly due to new strains of the virus.
UK health secretary Matt Hancock said cases were rising at a “dangerous rate” due to the mutant strain of COVID-19 that is more transmissible. The mutation was discovered last week in Kent.
The health secretary said another “highly concerning” variant had been discovered in South Africa. Two cases have been identified in the UK. The South African variant is thought to be even more transmissible than the Kent strain. Government scientists are set to analyse the strain at Porton Down.
The restrictions pose more challenges for the UK economy, which has suffered a historic collapse in 2020. Last week the chancellor extended key government support measures for jobs and businesses until March next year.
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