The boss of EasyJet last night became the latest business chief to pledge support to the Daily Mail’s campaign to Get Britain Flying Again with border tests.
Demanding a shift away from the current policy of imposing quarantine restrictions on people returning from many countries, chief executive Johan Lundgren said there was ‘still time to rescue our airline industry’.
He told the Mail: ‘The first step is to put in place a cutting edge science based regime for quarantine and travel and we need testing in place for those who travel from the red zones. This is just common sense.’
Yesterday some families were forced to pay thousands of pounds to return home early from seven Greek islands after Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced that the islands were being added to the quarantine list.
EasyJet said it planned to cancel flights following the decision to impose restrictions on the islands of Crete, Lesvos, Mykonos, Santorini, Serifos, Tinos, and Zakynthos.
The carrier, Europe’s biggest airline, said the move means it will have flown less than 40 per cent of its pre-pandemic schedule.
The current downturn has forced the airline to cut 4,500 jobs and close its bases at Southend, Stansted and Newcastle airports. And there could be more bad news on the way, with Sicily and Sardinia potentially becoming the latest islands to be added to Britain’s quarantine list tomorrow, industry experts have warned.
Mr Lundgren’s warning in today’s Mail also comes as Portugal and Denmark risk fresh quarantine restrictions based on a rise in the number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 residents over seven days.
Although Sicily could be added, mainland Italy is likely to stay off the quarantine list because coronavirus cases are not rising as rapidly there.
Amid fresh fury over the lack of testing yesterday, Britain’s aviation minister was quietly replaced. Kelly Tolhurst was reshuffled to the local government department hours after airline bosses savaged the lack of progress on a border testing regime.
The move follows reports that Downing Street and the Department for Transport (DfT) are finally leaning towards plans to halve the 14-day quarantine period by testing passengers eight days after they arrive in the UK.
Industry insiders hope the new aviation minister, Robert Courts, is being brought in to help overhaul the coronavirus travel rules.
The MP for Witney will be responsible for helping Mr Shapps thrash out a testing plan. He faces a furious Commons debate tomorrow at which dozens of Tory MPs are expected to come out in favour of testing.
Whitehall sources said there is ‘nothing untoward’ about Miss Tolhurst’s move to a new ministerial post in the local government department. But the timing has raised eyebrows as it comes amid growing anger from industry bosses and Tory MPs over the slow progress on testing.
Miss Tolhurst was given the transport brief in February and has presided over the worst crisis in the history of British aviation.
Her tenure has been dogged by criticism over the disastrous 14-day quarantine policy, inaction on airport testing measures and claims of scant engagement between ministers and industry leaders.
At the height of the row, the DfT cancelled two weeks’ worth of meetings with airlines and airport bosses. Yesterday Willie Walsh, the boss of BA owner IAG, used his last speech as chief executive of the airline group to attack the quarantine rules.
He said: ‘Quarantine restrictions have had a huge impact on the already troubled aviation industry. Transatlantic restrictions have been particular significant.
We support the need to protect public health, but believe that there needs to be a more constructive approach by governments. Long quarantine periods should be reduced through effective use of airport testing as has already been demonstrated in numerous countries.’
Dozens of business chiefs and MPs are supporting the Mail’s call for testing at ports and airports. Mr Shapps has said he is working ‘night and day’ to come up with a testing plan which could see the quarantine time reduced to just eight days.