Coronavirus: Prospect of sudden quarantine rules signals end of summer for travel sector | Business News

Stepping inside the north terminal at Gatwick Airport tells you everything you need to know about the state of the travel business in this, the first summer of COVID-19.

Even on a Monday in July it should be teeming. Instead, you could count the travellers in tens where there ought to be thousands.

Coronavirus has turned a flood of holidaymakers into a trickle, with dire consequences for the huge industry that supports the modern miracle of affordable air travel.

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Planes were grounded around the world during the early months of the pandemic

It is a trend unlikely to do anything but worsen following the government’s sudden closure of its so-called “air bridge” to Spain at five hours notice on Saturday evening.

At a stroke, it condemned every holidaymaker, business traveller or family visitor already in the country to a 14-day quarantine period when they got home.

The stock market value of the major airline and travel companies quantified in red numbers the blow of the latest measure.

Shares in British Airways owner IAG were down almost 8% on the day, as were those in Easyjet, while Ryanair fell almost 4% on the day it revealed a £185m loss, and package holiday giant Tui was down almost 12%.

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These are grim numbers for a sector that has already been hollowed out by coronavirus, but the real impact of the measure may be less tangible and far more enduring.

The government says its decision to change the travel advice at five hours notice was based purely on the science, and proves it is willing to act to protect public health irrespective of inconvenience to British citizens abroad.

But the move also signalled there can be no certainty to its coronavirus advice, a fact that will deal a blow to already fragile consumer confidence.



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For the travel sector it effectively signals the end of summer, and their chances of rescuing some meaningful trade from a dismal season.

There was frustration too at the decision to impose a blanket travel ban on all Spanish territories when the islands, including the Canaries and the Balearics, have far lower infection rates.

Hopes that a more nuanced approach might be taken were fuelled by the confusion that surrounded the initial announcement, when – despite the all-Spain quarantine advice – the Foreign Office (FCO) was not advising against travel to the islands.

As of Monday evening, that discrepancy was closed, with an extension of the FCO advice against all but essential travel rather than the easing of quarantine the travel operators had hoped for.



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What the industry wants is to see a dedicated track-and-trace programme aimed at international travel, a step that might mitigate against the blunt instrument of self-isolation.

Given the challenge of introducing the programme effectively in the general population, and the focus on local flare-ups, that does not seem imminent.

The industry’s chances of getting any better news this summer, like our prospects of a truly carefree trip abroad, are as bleak as the weather.

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