23:09 GMT06 August 2020
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    The prime minister has been warned in black and white that should the UK procrastinate with easing air lockdown measures the country would be pushed to the "back of the queue" of countries that have already doubled down on efforts to quash the economic fallout from the COVID crisis.

    Business bosses have written to Boris Johnson to demand the urgent creation of "air bridges" to low-risk countries to prevent Britain's controversial quarantine "risking major damage to the arteries of UK trade".

    The letter, seen by The Telegraph, urged the prime minister to act, as otherwise, the UK would be pushed "to the back of the queue as states begin conversations for opening up their borders" against the backdrop of the gradually easing pandemic.

    It also touched upon Boris Johnson's intention to conduct thorough checks into all airport arrivals, including cargo:

    "We have serious reservations about a blanket approach to all arrivals, irrespective of where passengers are originating from", the letter, whose signatories include Airlines UK, the Federation of Small Businesses, Make UK, UKHospitality, and the British Chambers of Commerce, asserts.

    Such a line of action, it warns, would adversely affect tourism, hospitality, and other business sectors that rely heavily on air travel.

    "Air bridges to low or no-infection countries could be a vital step towards allowing British businesses to maintain connectivity as part of a sensible, risk-based measure", the letter suggests.

    A medical worker tests a key worker for the novel coronavirus Covid-19 at a drive-in testing centre at Glasgow Airport on April 29, 2020, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
    © AFP 2020 / ANDREW MILLIGAN
    A medical worker tests a key worker for the novel coronavirus Covid-19 at a drive-in testing centre at Glasgow Airport on April 29, 2020, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

    The concept is believed to have the backing of Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. But sources said officials in the Foreign Office and Department of Health were opposed due to concerns that Britain could import new outbreaks of coronavirus, despite assurances that the countries in question have battled the coronavirus.

    The split over air bridges comes as a senior transport official reportedly issued an edict to airline leaders last week telling them not to publicly denounce the Johnson-declared travel quarantine. Michael O'Leary, the Ryanair chief executive, jumped at the chance to rip the plans.

    "It is bonkers. It has no credibility", he said, suggesting that Johnson could be "blurting out something on quarantines, and they have to make it up as they go along afterwards".

    He also assumed the air travel limitations would be soon scrapped whatever the case, as most European countries "will have already lifted" them by early June.

    Staff direct traffic as key workers arrive for a test for the novel coronavirus Covid-19 at a drive-in testing centre at Glasgow Airport on April 29, 2020, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
    © AFP 2020 / ANDREW MILLIGAN
    Staff direct traffic as key workers arrive for a test for the novel coronavirus Covid-19 at a drive-in testing centre at Glasgow Airport on April 29, 2020, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

    The debate unfolds as Whitehall prepares to enact the staged lockdown easing plans, starting on 1 June.

    Boris Johnson is expected to make key statements about the lifting of the lockdown this week.

    Senior government sources say the prime minister will publish guidance on how to gradually reopen schools and non-essential shops and instruct the public on the smart soon-to-be-effective trace and test programme, with plans to allow outdoor cafés provided social distancing is maintained next in the pipeline.

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    Tags:
    tourism, trade, business, air, lockdown, COVID-19, statement, Boris Johnson
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