The business secretary has defended plans for a 14-day quarantine period for people arriving into the UK in the face of a growing revolt against the proposal among Conservative MPs.
An increasing number of senior Tories have spoken out against the plan over fears it could further harm the UK’s struggling aviation sector.
Airlines and the wider industry are already reeling from the global slump in air travel due to the coronavirus crisis.
The government plans to introduce the mandatory self-isolation period for overseas arrivals into the UK from 8 June.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma stressed the measure is being introduced to “protect the health of the nation” as the level of COVID-19 infections within the UK continues to fall.
Businesses “all recognise that we have to make sure we are taking care of the health of the nation and that ultimately is what will lead to preserving the health of the economy”, the cabinet minister told Sky News’ Kay Burley@Breakfast show.
He said there was a “huge amount” of government support available for businesses which the airline sector is able to take advantage of, including the furlough scheme and coronavirus business interruption loans.
Mr Sharma added: “We take scientific advice and that’s the basis on which we act.
“Why we are introducing these measures now is because we have managed to get the R value [of coronavirus infections] under control.”
The business secretary also highlighted how there will be a “three-week rolling review” of the quarantine measures.
Challenged as to why international Formula One teams have been given an exemption to the quarantine rules in order to race at Silverstone this summer, Mr Sharma said there would be a “range of exemptions” for businesses.
This will include road hauliers, and those travelling to the UK to fix critical infrastructure or critical machinery, he added.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers, and former aviation minister Paul Maynard on Monday added to the pressure on the government over its quarantine plans.
Writing in the Daily Mail, they called for the government to boost air travel by establishing “air bridges” with 45 countries, which would be exempt from the quarantine measures.
“While we are seeing other nations announce their intention to reopen their borders, the UK has appeared to turn the other way, declaring a 14-day quarantine for inbound passengers,” the pair said.
“If this is to be implemented, it must be in place for no longer than necessary.
“This is important not only for the long-term impacts on our aviation and tourism sectors but its disproportionate effect on our position as a proud trading nation.”
Former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers also backed the idea of exempting some countries.
She told the BBC that applying the quarantine measures in a “blanket way across the board is an over-reaction”.
And fellow Tory MP Huw Merriman, the chair of the House of Commons transport select committee, told the Daily Telegraph: “I think it’s the wrong policy at this time and disproportionately impacts the economy.
“We should ditch blanket quarantine and self-distancing on planes and have different measures such as air bridges, compulsory PPE and temperature testing at airports.”
Last week, Henry Smith, the Conservative chair of the Future of Aviation Group of MPs, said: “The government should abandon quarantine as soon as possible.
“If we were ever going to have a blanket quarantine policy, it should have come in two or three months ago – we should be coming out of it now, not going into it.”
A number of other Tory MPs are reported to be opposed to the government’s quarantine plans.
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