Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today suggested Nicola Sturgeon is to blame for delays to publishing which countries will be made exempt from coronavirus quarantine travel restrictions.
The UK Government was expected to publish a list on Monday of countries which will no longer be subject to the 14 day self-isolation rules.
But publication has been repeatedly pushed back causing holiday chaos and increasing anger from the struggling airline and tourism industries.
Mr Shapps today indicated opposition from the Scottish Government was the reason why details are yet to be made available.
Ms Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, has criticised Downing Street for apparently failing to consult her on the plans and on Monday she said she wanted to ‘take a bit of time to consider the public health impact’ of what was being proposed amid fears abolishing quarantine could cause a spike in infections.
Responding to the SNP’s transport spokesman Gavin Newlands in the House of Commons this morning, Mr Shapps said: ‘I would say to the honourable gentleman, I would appreciate his help in ensuring air bridges can get going as quickly as possible and report to the House.
‘I am very keen to get the devolved administrations including the Scotland Government on board so we can get this thing announced.’
The Scottish Government said the suggestion it is responsible for the delays is ‘completely unfounded’.
Meanwhile, furious travel industry bosses are demanding answers from ministers amid claims that originally proposed ‘air bridge’ plans have effectively been ditched.
The Government is expected to publish a list of more than 75 countries which will be exempted from quarantine on arrivals to the UK, including key holiday destinations in Europe, Turkey, New Zealand and the Caribbean.
However, efforts to thrash out reciprocal ‘air bridge’ deals to ensure that British holidaymakers do not face restrictions on arrival in another country appear to have floundered.
That means that in many cases Brits still face being ordered to isolate on arrival if they travel abroad, with Greece among the countries enforcing the rule.
Ministers have said that a blanket ban on all non-essential international travel will start to be eased from July 6.
Pictured: Passengers queue up to check in for flights at Stansted Airport London, Britain, 01 July 2020. The UK Government is set to announce that Britons can travel to 95 countries, but only a handful actually permit people travelling from the UK
George Morgan-Grenville, chief executive of luxury travel company Red Savannah, today called Boris Johnson’s blanket quarantine policy ‘a disaster’
What are the current holiday rules, why have changes been delayed and who is to blame?
What are the current rules?
People arriving in the UK – including returning Britons – are currently required to self-isolate for a fortnight.
What is changing?
The UK Government is expected to announce a list of more than 75 countries which will be exempt from the restrictions.
Which countries will be included?
Key holiday destinations in Europe, Turkey, New Zealand and the Caribbean are likely. The US may not be due to high levels of infection.
Wasn’t this supposed to have already been announced?
Air bridges have long been touted by ministers. A list of destinations had been promised before the quarantine policy’s first review on June 29. But publication was pushed back, first to Monday, then Wednesday and now to Friday.
Why has there been a delay?
The Government has always insisted no date was set for the policy to be announced. But opposition to easing quarantine from Nicola Sturgeon has been blamed for the slow roll out.
When will changes come into force?
It was announced last week that measures would be relaxed for people returning from ‘safe’ countries from July 6.
The proposals are looking increasingly shambolic with the Government announcement repeatedly delayed despite airlines and tour operators warning they are on the verge of disaster.
Ministers initially promised a list of air bridges would be published well in advance of the deadline for reviewing the blanket quarantine policy on June 29.
But that was pushed back from Monday to Wednesday, before being shunted again to today. Sources said the government is now ‘hoping’ to make an announcement tomorrow.
Ministers agreed a new traffic light system last week that would pave the way for the creation of ‘travel corridors’, allowing tourists to visit certain ‘green’ countries deemed safe without the need to quarantine at either end.
But Ms Sturgeon suggested this week the Scottish Government could boycott the scheme, meaning it would not apply at airports such as Glasgow and Edinburgh.
That is thought to have undermined negotiations with other countries, which were being conducted on a UK-wide basis.
A promised air bridge to Greece is already in doubt after Athens said it was not ready to accept flights from Britain, which still has a relatively high coronavirus ‘reproduction’ rate – meaning the illness is not fully under control.
A travel industry source said: ‘The Greek move opened a can of worms and led to other EU countries with similarly low R rates also thinking they should look at blocking British holidaymakers.’
Travel companies are demanding clarity from the Government as they claim the delay in confirming the full details is preventing people from booking holidays.
A spokesman for the Department for Transport (DfT) called the policy a ‘developing policy’ but declined to comment further.
Today, George Morgan-Grenville, chief executive of luxury travel company Red Savannah, called the Government’s policy ‘a disaster’ and ‘lousy’.
The Government has been working on a traffic light system based on Covid risks in other countries, and plans on permitting travel to both ‘green’ and ‘amber’ countries
Nicola Sturgeon has been threatening to boycott the government’s plans for air bridges with other countries
Which countries are likely to be on the Government’s ‘safe’ travel list?
As many as 75 countries could be exempted from the quarantine restrictions when the Government finally publishes its list of ‘safe’ travel destinations.
A Foreign Office ban on non-essential travel could be lifted for countries including:
Austria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Belgium, Denmark, Turkey, France, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Barbados, New Zealand, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Bermuda and Gibraltar.
Only countries which are judged to be sufficiently low risk will make it onto the list.
Downing Street has played down the reports of the list including more than 75 countries ahead of the official announcement.
He told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme: ‘The whole of quarantine has been a disaster. It was a lousy piece of secondary legislation.
‘There was no business or regulatory impact assessment carried out, there was no consultation carried out. And effectively what it did was to prevent the industry after four months of no sales from getting back on its feet again.
‘The Government are very fond of saying that they’ve been following the science, but the scientists aren’t quite as fond as saying they’ve been following the Government.
‘There were numerous scientists… saying the exact opposite, saying it would have a negligible impact on public health and that it was a very odd time to bring it in.’
Paul Charles, from the Quash Quarantine group, said: ‘Each day there is a delay is a day of lost bookings and more jobs likely to go in the travel sector.’
Theresa Villiers, the former environment and Northern Ireland secretary, who was transport minister in the coalition, said the quarantine policy ‘hasn’t been worth it’.
‘This policy has caused damage to the travel industry, and inconvenience for holiday-makers, without any evidence of it working effectively to cut Covid risk,’ she said.
Having been one of the MPs urging Home Secretary Priti Patel to delay the restrictions when they were introduced a month ago, she added: ‘Air bridges needed to be in place from the start to deliver a risk-based approach which imposed quarantine only on flights from places with high rates of infection.’
Mr Shapps gave little doubt during Transport questions in the Commons this morning that he blames the Scottish Government for the delays in publishing the ‘safe’ countries list and striking ‘air bridge’ deals.
As well as his broadside at Mr Newlands, the Transport Secretary also told SNP MP Philippa Whitford: ‘There is something the honourable member may be pleased that she can do, which is to ask the Scottish Government to join with us in ensuring we can have these air bridges in place nationwide as quickly as possible.’
Mr Shapps also hinted that the easing of travel restrictions would be accompanied by more extensive screening at airports.
Conservative former minister Dame Cheryl Gillan asked Mr Shapps about the introduction of a Covid-19 testing programme at airports.
Pictured: Tourists arrive at Nikos Kazatzakis International Airport in Crete, Greece, on Wednesday, July 1, 2020. The passengers – most of them from Germany – came from Hamburg on the first international flight to arrive in the island
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He replied: ‘She’s absolutely right, it’s very important to ensure we can provide reassurance for passengers but also do something useful with the screening beyond perhaps just what asking people to take a temperature check provides, and so we are actively working with Heathrow and other airports to put exactly those types of schemes in place.’
Mr Shapps said he will be saying more about this ‘in time for the following review’ of air corridors.
However, Scottish Government Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf shot back at Mr Shapps over his suggestion that the SNP administration was responsible for delays in air bridges being announced.
He said: ‘This suggestion is completely unfounded. We have sought, as far as possible, a four-nations approach to this issue, but such a policy requires meaningful consultation by the UK Government – something which has so far been lacking.
‘I joined ministers from the other devolved administrations for a discussion with Matt Hancock last night to discuss the latest UK Government proposed list of “air-bridge” countries – which had been significantly changed from those provided late on Sunday and which were presented to my officials less than an hour beforehand.
‘Further information, including yet more revision to the list of countries, was not provided until after the meeting had ended.’
The UK Government is expected to announced that Britons will be free to travel to the majority of European Union countries, all British overseas territories and a number of other long-haul destinations – including Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Sri Lanka.
However, countries will only be included on the list if they are judged to be sufficiently low risk. That means the US, which has seen a large increase in coronavirus cases, is unlikely to be included.
Quarantine restrictions on arrivals into the UK were imposed on June 8 – which includes returning UK citizens – and put an end to the hope of holidays abroad.
However, it was announced last week that measures would be relaxed for people returning from ‘safe’ countries from July 6.
The Government has been working on a traffic light system based on Covid risks in other countries, and plans on permitting travel to both ‘green’ and ‘amber’ countries.
But Greece’s announcement it was extending its ban on flights from the UK caught the UK Government – who were set to release the list on Monday – by surprise.
The country opened to tourists for the first time since lockdown yesterday, but said visitors for the UK would have to wait until at least July 15 to be permitted entry.
According to The Times, other countries have raised the alarm over the proposed air bridge agreements following the outbreak of Covid-19 cases in Leicester.
The Government has been criticised by figures in the travel sector for not revealing the full details of its relaxation of the measures, saying that it is preventing people from booking holidays with confidence.
The lack of clarity surrounding the potential changes to travel restrictions has caused confusion for many holidaymakers, many of who have been left in limbo.
Social media users complained that they already had existing holidays booked but were unsure whether they will be able to make the trip.
One said the ‘lack of information coming from the government is the killer’ and that they would ‘just like to know one way or another’.
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