Despite the lockdown protocols put in place in a bid to slow down the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of private jets have been ferrying wealthy passengers to the UK from diverse coronavirus hotspots, reports The Times.
An investigation is said to have identified 545 private jets that defied lockdown due to “lax border controls” and landed in UK airfields since the restrictive measures were introduced in March.
25 of the chartered planes reportedly availed themselves of the country's open border policy and arrived from Spain, 27 from France, and 32 from Germany, according to flight data from WingX, an aviation consultancy.
The report cites another 15 private jets having flown in from the US, whose current coronavirus death toll is over 38,000, the highest in the world.
The report says some 767 aircraft received permission to take off from the UK amid the pandemic, with 115 of them resorting to the “discreet” Farnborough airport in Hampshire.
The data suggests that 34 jets took their lockdown flaunters to France, 34 flew to Germany, 30 to Spain and 23 to Russia.
The UK’s rich have also been setting off to more distant destinations as well, with at least ten heading for the UAE.
It is claimed the wealthy passengers are not providing reliable information about the reasons for their continued travel in order to skirt the Government's “essential travel” rule, insisting they are heading for family homes in the UK while in effect flying to holiday homes.
As other countries have been clamping down on travel and shutting their borders in line with quarantine rules to ward off the coronavirus spread, Britain has already been criticized for not having stringent enough travel restrictions, writes the outlet.
President of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine Professor Gabriel Scally was cited by The Times as lambasting the UK’s lax border policy as “hard to understand” amid a pandemic that has triggered some 130 countries to put tight controls in place.
Justin Bowman, Chief executive of the Air Charter Service, was quoted as reminding that “there are still thousands of people” stranded abroad.
“Governments are facing huge challenges moving people from different parts of the world back to the UK, where they are stranded. The airlines stopped pretty much overnight. There are still thousands of people in the wrong place. Many of these flights will be legitimate repatriations from around the world. I would hope those abusing the rules are in the minority.”
The reports have not been confirmed officially by the Civil Aviation Authority, which was cited as having “no way of knowing if the hire of private aircraft has increased or declined in recent weeks”.
The reports come as last week a private jet that left London with super-rich holidaymakers on board was sent back from France when they tried to reach a luxury villa by helicopter.
Seven men and three women reportedly arrived at Marseille-Provence airport on 4 April, only to be intercepted by the local police.
When confronted, the Croatian businessman who had organized the trip offered cash to the law enforcement officers, according to a police source, that told BFM news outlet:
“They had planned to come and have a good time on the Riviera despite the Coronavirus epidemic.”
The UK Government imposed strict restrictions on movement during the coronavirus lockdown, in force since 23 March, with resident only allowed to leave the house for food shopping, medical needs, and one form of exercise daily.
First Secretary of State Dominic Raab, deputizing for Prime Minister Boris Johnson who is recuperating from COVID-19, announced a three-week extension to the lockdown, insisting it was a vital measure to prevent a second peak of the virus and to take the burden off the NHS.
Currently, the UK has around 108,600 registered cases of COVID-19, with the death toll at over 14,500 , according to the World Health Organization.