Airports slam Scottish Government ‘dithering’ over air bridges

Scottish aviation bosses say the 14-day quarantine policy has already cost thousands of jobs.

Airport bosses have rounded on the Scottish Government for “dithering” over so-called “air bridges” with other countries.

The 14-day quarantine in England for travellers arriving from destinations such as Spain, France, Italy and Germany will be lifted by the UK Government on Friday.

But Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not agreed to the plans.

Representatives from Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports urged Scottish ministers to provide clarity as soon as possible, saying the quarantine policy had already cost thousands of jobs.

They said the “targeted, risk-based approach” of air bridges would allow them “to safely re-establish routes” and prevent further job losses.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her Welsh counterpart Mark Drakeford have branded the handling of air bridges by UK ministers as “shambolic”.

Sturgeon insisted she would not be “dragged along” by Number 10 into following the same policy without fully considering the evidence.

However, she said last week she wanted to make a decision “quickly” and added it was “very likely” air bridges would be formed with countries at low risk from coronavirus.

It comes after it emerged no checks in Scotland have taken place to ensure new arrivals to the country are quarantining for 14 days, despite the new law coming into effect on June 8, a month ago.

Speaking at the Scottish Government Covid-19 briefing on Monday, the First Minister explained Scottish officials had not been given the clearance to access the required Home Office data.

A memorandum of agreement was reached on the issue on Friday, Sturgeon said, adding checks will start on Tuesday.

Staff from Public Health England have been calling a random sample of arrivals south of the border to ensure they are sticking to the rules.

From Tuesday, officials from Public Health Scotland will be able to do the same.

The First Minister acknowledged that “in an ideal world” such checks would have started sooner.

She said she would make an announcement on air bridges as soon as she can, with the intention to implement them in time for Friday, July 10, when the policy begins in England.

On Friday, the UK Government published a list of 73 countries and territories where English holidaymakers can visit without self-isolating on their return, putting them into green and amber groups.

Both colours mean they are deemed safe enough that travellers into the UK from these countries do not have to self-isolate.

They include popular short-haul destinations such as Spain, France, Italy, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, as well as long-haul locations including Australia, Barbados, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Vietnam.

Sturgeon said the Scottish Government is “looking more closely at the countries in the amber risk grouping, which are medium, moderate risk”.

The First Minister said the data provided only goes up to June 19 and this is “clearly some time ago” so more information had been requested.

She stressed this is important because of “increasing volatility internationally around levels of the virus”, noting some parts of Spain reimposed lockdowns over the weekend because of spikes in coronavirus cases.

But she told Scots she hopes a decision will be made “within the next couple of days” so the regulations can be put in place for Friday.

“We said the quarantine policy would be ineffective and unworkable and we now know we were right after the government’s own admission that no checks have taken place. Jobs have been lost and thousands more are at risk due to this policy and there is absolutely nothing to show for it.”

Edinburgh Airport spokesman

A spokesman for Edinburgh Airport said: “Another day and yet more dithering from the Scottish Government.

“Airports never like to hear about delays but when it is having a direct impact on people’s jobs and livelihods then they are even more unwelcome.

“We need to know what the government plans to do and we need to know now.

“We said the quarantine policy would be ineffective and unworkable and we now know we were right after the government’s own admission that no checks have taken place.

“Jobs have been lost and thousands more are at risk due to this policy and there is absolutely nothing to show for it.”

Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports – which owns Aberdeen and Glasgow airports – said the sector could not afford any more delay.

“We said at the outset that a blanket quarantine policy would be ineffective, unworkable and hugely damaging to our sector and the wider economy,” he said.

“Since it was put in place, thousands of jobs within our aviation and tourism sectors have been lost and the fact the policy has not even been enforced means our recovery plans have been stifled unnecessarily.

“We need clarity as soon as possible on when we can move to the targeted, risk-based approach of air bridges which will allow us to safely re-establish routes and prevent further jobs being put at risk.

“I appreciate government has difficult decisions to make during this crisis but we cannot afford any further delay.”

Sturgeon stressed there is “no suggestion there has not been high compliance with the quarantine measures” for travellers arriving in Scotland.

She told the government briefing: “Passengers coming into Scotland are made fully aware of the quarantine arrangements.

“What we are now able to do, given these data issues have been resolved, is begin the checks and begin them tomorrow, and Public Health Scotland will take that forward.”

She added: “While it has taken a little bit of time to do that it now means we have this system fully embedded within our public health infrastructure here in Scotland so we are not reliant on Public Health England carrying out these checks for us.”

Health secretary Jeane Freeman said: “The passenger data – the data you would give as you were flying into Scotland, about where you were going to go and your contact details – is held by the Home Office, it is not held by the Scottish Government.

“So in order to conduct quarantine checks you need to get that passenger data, the contact data, from the Home Office.

“Quarantine check will begin from tomorrow and those checks will not simply be on those individuals arriving from tomorrow but will also be on individuals who have arrived in the past 14 days.”

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