In Depth

Why air bridges have been ‘shelved’ - and the countries cleared for take-off

UK to allow quarantine-free travel to nearly all EU countries and many other destinations across the world

Plans to launch individual “air bridges” from the UK are being ditched as the government opts instead to allow quarantine-free travel to up to 75 low-risk countries, according to reports.

The Foreign Office is expected to lift a ban on non-essential travel to a host of countries with low coronavirus infection rates, and holidaymakers will no longer be required to quarantine for 14 days when they arrive back in the UK.

Why are air bridges being scrapped?

The new plan, to be announced officially later this week, is viewed by many commentators as “tacit acceptance that ‘bilateral air bridges’, or ’travel corridors’, were unworkable”, reports The Telegraph.

Regardless of the reasons, the decision to open up the UK’s borders to dozens of countries included on a “quarantine exemption list” has been welcomed by the travel and aviation industry, as well as holidaymakers.

Paul Charles, a spokesperson for the Quash Quarantine campaign group of 500 travel and hospitality businesses, told the newspaper: “We have said all along that air bridges were unsustainable in Europe because you can’t restrict people travelling in the EU or Schengen.

“It’s sensible and logical and I wish we could have had it earlier. It begs the question as to why have we gone round in circles.”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has been pushing for a series of air-bridge deals with individual countries, but Foreign Office officials were reportedly concerned about the potential political consequences.

A senior government source told The Telegraph that creating a specific list of air-bridge countries exempt from quarantine could cause diplomatic strife and lead to legal challenges. 

“They suggested that to avoid such a fall-out, officials were instead pushing for a more informal system which would merely see the FCO’s travel advice section amended to include a list of high-risk countries where Britons should refrain from travelling to,” the paper reports.

Henry Smith, chair of the cross-party Future of Aviation group, said: “We need to get a set of criteria and subsequent list of countries published. Every day of uncertainty translates into more jobs lost.” 

Which countries are to be cleared?

Countries will be classified as green, amber or red under the government’s traffic light system, according to the number of new coronavirus cases reported. Nearly all EU destinations are expected to be cleared for travel, along with British territories such as Bermuda and Gibraltar.

Countries that currently have lower infection rates than the UK include France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Switzerland, Belgium, Ireland, Iceland, Poland, Malta, Cyprus, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Slovenia, Slovakia and Germany, all of which are expected will be on the safe, or green, list.

Turkey, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand have also all been judged sufficiently low risk and will be cleared, as will Croatia, says The Telegraph. But the US, Russia and Brazil will stay in the UK’s “red” list, with the ban on non-essential travel to remain in place.

The ban will also apply to Sweden, which has never fully locked down and currently tops the infection rate table in the EU with a rate of 60 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 of the population.

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