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U.K. Airlines, Airports Fear 'Devastating Impact' Of Possible Quarantine Rules

Airlines and airport operators in the United Kingdom are not waiting for the government to publicly confirm their fears. Already, the groups representing major players in the U.K.'s air travel industry are pushing back on a proposal that would require travelers to quarantine after arriving from outside the country.

A spokesperson for Airlines UK — a trade body with British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair as members — says that the group understands from government officials that plans for a quarantine are in the works, but that details remain scarce at the moment.

"We need to see the detail of what they are proposing. Public health must of course be the priority and we will continue to be guided by Sage advice," the group said in a statement emailed to NPR, noting that support measures will be necessary to ensure "that we still have a UK aviation sector once the quarantine period is lifted."

"We will be asking for assurances that this decision has been led by the science and that Government has a credible exit plan, with weekly reviews to ensure the restrictions are working and still required."

The prime minister's office declined to comment, suggesting that details about the situation will be addressed in Boris Johnson's speech Sunday evening. In his address, Johnson is expected to lay out a road map for the U.K.'s continued coronavirus response, which to this point has included weeks of broad lockdown measures nationwide.

The U.K. has suffered Europe's highest death toll linked to COVID-19, with upwards of 31,600 confirmed patients dead, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Only the United States has reported a higher death toll worldwide.

The Times in London reports that under the new restrictions, travelers entering the U.K. — including citizens — would need to self-isolate for 14 days, with fines threatened for violators. The Airport Operators Association says it has received no word from officials regarding the possible quarantine — though the group's chief executive, Karen Dee, pushed back strongly on the idea in a statement sent to NPR.

"Quarantine would not only have a devastating impact on the UK aviation industry, but also on the wider economy. Aviation is an enabler for many other industries, such as manufacturers, tourism and the hospitality industry," she said, adding that airports in the country "cannot survive a further protracted period without passengers that would be the result of quarantine measures."

"If quarantine is a necessary tool for fighting COVID-19," she said, "then the Government should act decisively to protect the hundreds of thousands of airport-related and travel-related jobs across the UK."

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Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.