The European Commission and the boss of Ryanair have taken aim at the Government’s plans to quarantine visitors for at least two weeks upon their arrival in the UK.
In his address to the nation on Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed it would “soon be time” to “impose quarantine on people coming into this country by air” as the UK battles to keep its coronavirus transmission rate down.
He has since confirmed that those travelling in from Ireland and France will be exempt from the measures.
The European Commission on Tuesday criticised the decision not to apply the exemption to all European Union nations which are in a similar stage of their coronavirus outbreak to the UK.
What’s ineffective is these kind of idiotic measures like a 14-day quarantine, which is completely non-science-based, when you can exempt the French and you can exempt the IrishMichael O'Leary, Ryanair
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary, meanwhile, labelled the forthcoming policy “idiotic” and called for ministers to instead introduce airport checks which would allow holidaymakers to start embarking on his planes once again.
In a briefing to journalists, the European Commission reminded Downing Street that the UK remains subject to EU free movement rules during the Brexit transition period, which is currently due to finish in 2021.
Health spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker said the UK, while free to introduce its own quarantine restrictions, would be expected to apply the same rules to EU countries with a similar Covid-19 situation to its own.
He said: “We would expect that member states who follow certain measures in the area of quarantining would apply the same rules towards other member states if they have similar epidemiological situations.”
Irish businessman Mr O’Leary also piled in on the idea of forcing foreign visitors to self-isolate for up to a fortnight, claiming it would fail to find support among the public.
Mr O’Leary told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “What’s ineffective is these kind of idiotic measures like a 14-day quarantine, which is completely non-science-based, when you can exempt the French and you can exempt the Irish.
“It’s nonsense and it has no effect in limiting the spread of Covid-19.”
He argued that there are more suitable checks which could be put in place to allow air travel to start up again.
His comments come after Ryanair announced it is set to restore 40% of its flights from July 1.
“The reality is, we’re over the peak of the virus,” said the millionaire airline owner.
“What we now need is to take effective measures, and effective measures certainly in air travel will involve masks and temperature checks.
“They’re not going to involve measures that have no public support like lockdown, isolation.
“They’re utterly unimplementable anyway because you don’t have the police resources to go and check the people.”
The 59-year-old said families have a “huge pent-up desire” to “get away to the beaches of Spain and Portugal” where he predicted there would be “no spread of the virus”.
But Health Secretary Matt Hancock looked to put the brakes on those starting to plan trips to sunny climes this summer, all but confirming that international getaways would not be possible in 2020.
Asked whether “summer was cancelled”, the Cabinet minister told ITV’s This Morning: “I think that’s likely to be the case.”
He said “social distancing of some kind” would need to continue into the summer months.
“The conclusion from that is it is unlikely that big, lavish international holidays are going to be possible for this summer – I just think that’s a reality of life,” he added.
Mr Hancock, during an interview on Sky News, defended plans to force visitors into quarantine, arguing that it is necessary in order to “control” the future spread of coronavirus.
“There’s lots of things that we’re having to do to control this virus that I wish we didn’t have to do … but it’s a matter of fact that we have to control this virus,” he said.
“Because otherwise hundreds of thousands of people will die so it is something that we are going to have to do.”
Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England, said those arriving from other countries could present a “significant risk” for the UK as the country suppresses its domestic infection rate.
Speaking during a Royal Society of Medicine Covid-19 webinar, she said: “As we manage to tighten and lock down the outstanding cases in this country, then they (foreign arrivals) become a significant risk to seeding new pockets of infection that we don’t want to take off.
“And so, as our rates drop, this then becomes a very sensible and practical way of preventing recurrent disease here, and that’s why it will be brought in shortly.”