Andrew Griffith is MP for Arundel & South Downs and is the former Chief Business Adviser to Boris Johnson.
The Coronavirus pandemic has touched the lives of the whole country, in a way we have never seen before in anyone’s lifetime. It is a truly global challenge, and that is why it is right that the UK is playing a full and active role in the international response, including putting our considerable scientific expertise into vaccine research.
But it is also vital that we ensure Britain gets back on its feet quickly and that we remain open for business. Whilst protection of our UK citizens is paramount, this is served as much by an economy, whose prosperity can indefinitely support our generous level of spending on health and public services, as it is by the actions we take in this immediate crisis.
That is why the Prime Minister’s roadmap outlined last week is so important. He is absolutely right to urge a degree of caution, and was also right to sketch out – subject to continued reduction in infection – how businesses across the country can plan to get back on their feet. Firms in my constituency of Arundel & South Downs and beyond have welcomed the detail on how we will get the construction, retail and hospitality sectors opened again.
However, we must also extend this to other sectors critical to our future growth. UK aviation is world leading and a driver of growth, jobs and trade. It is at grave risk as a result of the pandemic.
Aviation is not just another economic sector. It is fundamental to our ability to export on which our economy and standard of living depends; they make up almost a third of our GDP and without them we will be forever poorer. A blanket and indefinite 14-day quarantine would put this at risk, and create the perception that Britain is closed just as competitor nations lift their travel restrictions and open back up for business.
Fortunately, there are workable alternatives on the table already. For instance, Heathrow announced last week that it will trial new technologies and processes which could form the basis of a Common International Standard for health screening at airports.
The measures aim to collectively eradicate the risk of contracting or transmitting Covid-19 while travelling by air, including temperature screening technology, UV sanitation; and contact-free security screening equipment.
Rival Vienna airport is offering airside testing for the virus to arriving passengers before they clear immigration controls as an alternative to quarantine, and a long list of exemptions, including those who have been tested to WHO accredited standards shortly before departure.
Iceland tests passengers upon arrival – the same standard of test which, whilst never perfectly accurate, is what the UK uses to allow nurses, doctors and care-workers to go back to work with vulnerable people.
As the Prime Minister said in his address to the nation last Sunday, if we are to control this virus we must have a world-beating system of testing’.
It would therefore be wonderful to see the same level of ingenuity and human endeavour that has successfully rolled out thousands of beds in ‘Nightingale’ hospitals deployed at our borders to protect our citizens from potential virus-carrying arrivals, whilst also protecting the aviation industry and economic interests of the UK.
Now, more than ever, we must show that Britain remains open for business – and this would be an excellent next step.