U.K. Air-Corridors Plan Could Limit Impact of Covid Quarantine

(Bloomberg) -- London’s Heathrow airport is working with the U.K. government on a plan that would allow people flying in from countries with a low incidence of the coronavirus to avoid controversial quarantine restrictions.

Heathrow has given a positive reception to proposals for so-called “travel corridors” put forward by the Department for Transport’s restart and recovery working group, a spokesman for Europe’s busiest air hub said. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Parliament that the plan is under consideration.

The corridors would allow free movement between low-risk cities or countries and could hold the key to restarting flights in Britain after the government’s plan for 14-day isolation periods was criticized by airports and airlines as likely to put people off traveling altogether.

“Instead of a blanket quarantine approach which would prolong economic uncertainty, the DfT have worked with us and industry to develop a proposal for a risk-based model,” Heathrow said in a statement, adding that a similar system has been successfully introduced in locations such as Hong Kong.

Read More: International Plane Travel Creeps Back With ‘Bubble’ Corridors

Shapps said in the House of Commons that final details of the quarantine plan will be released soon and come in early next month.

“We should indeed consider further improvements, for example, air bridges enabling people from other countries that have achieved lower levels of coronavirus infection to come to the country,” he said. “Those are active discussions that go beyond what will initially be a blanket situation.”

The DfT said the aviation sector is crucial to the U.K. economy and that it’s exploring options for reviving transport operations “while also ensuring we limit the risk of creating a second wave of cases.”

U.K. Air-Corridors Plan Could Limit Impact of Covid Quarantine

Heathrow, the home base of British Airways, will also begin trialling thermal-screening technology for arriving passengers this week, the spokesman said, and is handing out face masks both to incoming and departing travelers.

Neither measure has been endorsed by the government, but combined with the corridor approach and developments such as contract tracing, they may provide authorities and the public with sufficient confidence for a resumption of flights.

Operations at airports across Europe are likely to remain limited through June, so that Heathrow is targeting an anticipated ramp up starting in July for when the various steps might come together.

Other options include an immunity passport for those testing positive for Covid-19 antibodies, while the hub will also trial ultra-violet sterilization of security trays and contact-free security screening equipment, with results to be passed to the government.

Heathrow Chief Executive Officer John Holland-Kaye has also told Bloomberg that two-meter social distancing is unsustainable at airports as it cuts capacity to 20% of the usual level, and that the combination of checks and hygiene enhancements should allow such restrictions to be removed as traffic builds.

Ryanair Holdings Plc, which has its biggest hub at London Stansted airport, reiterated its opposition to the quarantine plan Monday, saying proposals aren’t based on solid science and in any case couldn’t be practically implemented.

“I think it will largely, over the next three or four weeks, be removed in favor of something that is effective, which is face masks and temperature checks,” CEO Michael O’Leary said in a Bloomberg TV interview.

In France, Paris Charles de Gaulle airport is already deploying infrared cameras to screen passengers for fever when they arrive in the capital. Aeroports de Paris has bought a dozen of the systems that can scan as many as 16 people per second.

The airport plans to rely on airlines to carry out temperature checks at the point of departure.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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