The Spanish Inquisition

30/07/2020

A snap quarantine by the UK government on passengers returning from Spain is draconian and deeply damaging says GHI’s Max Gosney. It’s time policy makers grasped that only through collaboration will we conquer this virus...

“A specially Covid-themed G20 Summit convened in the UK is rudely interrupted when a UFO descends onto Parliament Square. The hatch opens and a troop of little green creatures disembark to the slack jawed wonder of assembled world leaders.

‘We come in peace’ says the bug-eyed leader before unveiling a welcome gift from the people of Alpha Centauri to Earth – a coronavirus vaccine. There is one catch, the creature points out with his tentacle-like finger: ‘best before 14 days’.

Donald Trump is hugging Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel is breaking out the Macarena. But amid the elation, the British delegation remain stony-faced. Dominic Raab, our Foreign Secretary, whispers in a civil servant’s ear: “MI6 says they refuelled in Spain. Detain ET and his friends in the cells and throw their illegal import in with them. By Jove, they’ll abide by our 14-day quarantine rule.’

A joke perhaps, but its sentiments are depressingly believable based on the draconian travel ban implemented by the UK government on travellers from Spain last week. Just as our public was beginning to recover confidence in flying and make summer getaways – ministers broke up the party.

A spike in coronavirus cases in cities including Madrid, Barcelona and Zaragoza meant the Sangria would stop flowing for those travelling to the Balearic and Canary Islands many hundreds of miles away. It was – as a good friend put it to me –  like Spain quarantining UK visitors from the Falkland Islands because of a Covid-19 spike in Leicester, a city thousands of miles away.

These numbskulls at 10 Downing Street are cloaking poor decisions in fear. We are fed specious claims that ‘we had to act swiftly to protect public health’ or ‘the government has made it consistently clear we will take decisive action’. Well, decisive is very different from effective, Prime Minister Johnson. Instead of peddling totalitarian-esq propaganda about protecting this great nation, surely someone should exercise science, reason and continuity when deciding policy in the corridors of power.

Because aviation is just getting back on its feet in Europe after a cruel blow. Those poor operatives, pilots, check-in agents and station managers witnessed on my trip to London Luton Airport last week have had the spring knocked right out of their step. The justification for doing so is spurious at best.

Spain has seen a growth in daily virus cases to 6,000+ on 27 July – around six times greater than the UK on the same day. However, those cases are stacked towards cities in the North of the country and away from the beaches to the South where UK holiday makers flock. Surely a more targeted approach that scrutinises flights from suspected cities would be more proportional countermeasure than penalising entire countries.

Indiscriminate quarantine actions like those favoured by the UK are the quintessential ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’. Yes, you block the risk of importing Covid-19 cases, but at a disproportionate cost. You can kiss goodbye to the aviation staff who were bright eyed about returning from furlough to fill the flights to Fuerteventura. Those same men and women contribute income tax and take their families out to wine and dine in high street eateries every weekend when the going is good. Well guess what, what Mr Johnson: HM Treasury can take a payment holiday on that revenue because of your reactionary antics.

It didn’t have to happen this way. You can get tough on Covid-19 without collateral damage to jobs, morale and economic confidence. All it takes is collaboration and communication.  Industry associations like EASA, ACI and IATA have advanced plans to implement a suite of Covid-19 preventing travel protocols. These blueprints discuss proven counter measures like passenger locator forms, thermal screening, physical distancing and PCR testing.

Implementation of such measures carries a cost. But, there’s price and then there’s value as we’re fond of discussing in ground handling. A more targeted approach would protect aviation jobs, tourism and nurture public confidence. That add ups to increased consumer spending and greater economic prosperity while protecting public health. You might even win more votes at the next election off the back of it.

It’s not an accident that nations like Singapore, Japan and South Korea who’ve twinned assiduous Covid tracking with precision, local responses have achieved better containment than bullish, reactionary and nationally guided antics of nations like the UK and US. 

The Middle East is also a great case study in balancing safety measures with public confidence to travel. Emirates has just announced Covid-19 compensation for any passenger requiring medical care after contracting the virus during travel or side-lined by a quarantine restriction. Etihad has also unveiled home PCR testing in partnership with a private medical firm and national leaders. 

Please take note Boris Johnson and co. The future is uncertain enough without rash travel bans being decreed at every turn. If there’s one take home message from the last 19 weeks of putting this GHI newsletter together then it is this: ‘It is only through collaboration will we conquer Covid-19.’

It’s been an absolute pleasure writing this column, thank you for listening and we’ll be in touch throughout the next few months as we work with you to deliver a successful 22nd Annual GHI Conference in November. See you in Copenhagen, my friends.” 

What have you thought of the GHI Covid-19 newsletter? Email me your views max@groundhandling.com