New Hurdle Emerges As EU Leaders Urge Quarantine For UK Visitors

Munich Airport
Credit: Andreas Gebert/Getty Images

PARIS—European airlines are facing a further obstacle in the road to recovery as EU leaders step up calls for coordinated quarantine for arrivals from the UK, in a bid to limit the spread of the coronavirus delta variant. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has called for other European countries to follow Germany’s lead in requiring arrivals from the UK to quarantine, said June 24 at a summit in Brussels that she would push for a more coordinated approach, in particular when it came to arrivals from countries in which variants were spreading. 

French President Emmanuel Macron also said there should be coordination on opening borders to third countries.  

Coronavirus case numbers are on the rise in the UK, having fallen to a low level, with the increase in recent days blamed on the more transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus. Airlines just starting to see an improvement in traffic levels have criticized the new quarantine stance being put forward. 

“It makes absolutely no sense when we’ve fully vaccinated 60% of our population and we know the vaccines work against all known variants, including the delta variant,” a spokesman for industry group Airlines UK said.

European industry group Airlines For Europe (A4E) also weighed in. “The latest Council Recommendation on intra-EU travel was adopted just 10 days ago, proposing a common approach for Member States to lift travel restrictions and rely on the ECDC color-coded map to evaluate risk levels,” A4E said. “Together with our members, A4E has continuously called for better coordination and harmonization between Member States.” 

A4E described the spread of the delta variant as “worrying,” but argued that 34% of the EU population has been fully vaccinated and 57% have received one dose, referencing European CDC data. 

“This means that the most fragile populations are now protected,” A4E said. “In addition, the use of the Digital COVID Certificate (DCC) as of 1 July will ensure that most passengers traveling by air are either fully vaccinated, recovered or tested negative for COVID. Given we have already entered the summer holiday period, our plea to Member States is to take a risk-based approach and—to echo Chancellor Merkel, ‘finally coordinate their measures to ensure clarity for EU travelers.’” 

The leaders’ calls come as Eurocontrol figures released June 24 showed the recovery progressing, with traffic at 52% of 2019 levels over the preceding seven days. The network manager said 18,094 flights operated June 23, 51% of 2019 levels, with a 16% increase over two weeks.  

The UK government made some changes to COVID-19 restrictions on overseas flights June 24, in a move that the industry criticized heavily for not going far enough. Malta was added to the “green list” of countries to which UK travelers can travel without a quarantine period on their return. 

The UK did not take the decision, much hoped-for by airlines, to relax travel restrictions between the U.S. and UK.  

Madeira, the Balearic Islands and some Caribbean destinations were also placed on the “green watchlist,” of countries at risk of moving from green to amber status if COVID-19 rates start to rise.  

The UK did not relax restrictions between the U.S. and the UK, a step airlines have been urging for some time after successful vaccination programs in both countries.  

Ryanair said the UK travel announcement was “a small step in the right direction ... but not enough for a country where over 60% of the adult population is now fully vaccinated.”

Helen Massy-Beresford

Based in Paris, Helen Massy-Beresford covers European and Middle Eastern airlines, the European Commission’s air transport policy and the air cargo industry for Aviation Week & Space Technology and Aviation Daily.