Emergency talks underway to rescue No10's 'air bridge' holiday plan

Emergency talks underway as Nicola Sturgeon threatens to torpedo Number 10’s ‘air bridge’ plan by blocking holiday jets into Scotland

  • Nicola Sturgeon is refusing to rule out quarantine on arrivals from England
  • Boris Johnson dismisses threat insisting that ‘there is no border’ with Scotland 
  • Ms Sturgeon hit back that PM was engaged in ‘absurd and ridiculous’ posturing 

Emergency talks were under way last night to prevent Nicola Sturgeon from undermining plans for ‘air bridges’ to popular holiday destinations.

Ministers agreed a new traffic light system last week that would pave the way for the creation of ‘travel corridors’, allowing tourists to visit certain ‘green’ countries deemed safe without the need to quarantine at either end.

But Miss Sturgeon yesterday suggested the Scottish government could boycott the scheme, meaning it would not apply at airports such as Glasgow and Edinburgh. This risks scuppering plans for air bridges because they are being agreed with other countries on a UK-wide basis.

At PMQs, Boris Johnson tore into Nicola Sturgeon over her threat to quarantine people entering Scotland from England – insisting there is ‘no border’ within the UK

Officials in Westminster were last night holding talks with their counterparts in Scotland in an attempt to smooth over the issue. The row has already contributed to a delay in publishing a list of countries where ‘travel corridors’ will be put in place. Ministers had originally hoped to publish it yesterday and it could now be delayed until tomorrow, putting in doubt plans to get the scheme up and running by the weekend.

A promised air bridge to Greece is already in doubt after Athens said it was not ready to accept flights from Britain, which still has a relatively high coronavirus ‘reproduction’ rate – meaning the illness is not fully under control. A travel industry source said: ‘The Greek move opened a can of worms and led to other EU countries with similarly low R rates also thinking they should look at blocking British holidaymakers. There is every chance the whole air bridge plan could be pushed back even further into next week.’

It came as some travel agents started abandoning plans to sell holidays this summer due to the uncertainty around air bridges.

At her daily briefing in Edinburgh later Ms Sturgeon accused the premier of ‘absurd and ridiculous political comments’

Lee Hunt, 42, owner of Deben Travel in Suffolk, said: ‘We have taken a decision to not take any bookings in July and August. There is so much uncertainty – if customers are paying, we need to guarantee to them that they are getting everything they pay for.’

Up to 400,000 Britons are thought to have had their holidays ruined by Greece’s decision. Meanwhile Miss Sturgeon has also left the door open to forcing visitors from England to quarantine for 14 days if they go north of the border.

The idea was ridiculed yesterday by Boris Johnson, who said there had been ‘no discussion’ about the proposal with Miss Sturgeon. The Prime Minister told MPs: ‘There is no such thing as a border between England and Scotland.’

His spokesman later clarified he meant there was ‘no border infrastructure’ to allow the Scottish government to enforce a quarantine on visitors from England.

But Miss Sturgeon said it was ‘absurd’ to suggest there was no border. She denied she was planning to quarantine visitors from England but refused to rule it out, saying: ‘If I’m looking at the data and the evidence and I’m seeing there’s a risk to Scotland of infection coming in from other parts of the UK and I think there needs to be measures taken to contain that, I will discuss that with other administrations.’ 

Bradford, Barnsley and Rochdale are three of the areas of England most at risk of being hit by a ‘local lockdown’ like the one imposed in Leicester to control the coronavirus, according to official data.  

Statistics for the week ending June 21 — the most recently available — show those areas had the highest Covid-19 infection rates in the country, each with more than 50 positive tests per 100,000 people. Only Leicester recorded more (140.2). 

It comes as government sources today said local lockdowns could be ‘just days away’. But ministers have yet to officially confirm which parts of England are in the firing line.

Barnsley Council today called for ‘extra care and vigilance’ among its citizens because of the high infection rate and the risk of a Covid-19 flare-up that could see the city shut down. 

Other areas that may face being plunged into another lockdown include Bedford, Oldham, Rotherham, Tameside, Blackburn with Darwen and Kirklees, which all have more than 30 cases per 100,000 people.

At the other end of the scale, in the week from June 15 to June 21,  West Berkshire, South Tyneside and the City of London all recorded zero coronavirus cases per 100,000 population. And the rate was lower than one in South Gloucestershire, Wokingham, Gloucestershire, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, Redcar and Cleveland, Torbay, Lambeth and Portsmouth.

Asked about the situation by Conservative MP Andrew Bowie at PMQs, Mr Johnson said: ‘There have been no such discussions with the Scottish administration about that but I would point out what he knows very well – there is no such thing as a border between England and Scotland.’

However, at her own briefing later Ms Sturgeon said: ‘What there definitely is, is a geographical boundary to my powers as First Minister.

‘If the Prime Minister is questioning that now, I’m not sure what he would say if I pitched up in Newcastle and started to try to implement Scottish Government policies in Newcastle.

‘And see what I’ve just said there? It’s absurd too, which is why we shouldn’t be having these discussions.

‘We should all be focusing with an absolute laser-like focus on what we need to do within our own responsibilities and working together when necessary to stop a virus.’

On the possibility of people having to quarantine after entering Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said there are no such proposals at the moment, but added: ‘Given the nature of what we’re dealing with right now – just to remind the Prime Minister: an infectious virus – I would not be doing my job properly if I ruled things out that, as we see from countries around the world, are being used selectively in appropriate circumstances to try to contain a virus.

‘If I’m looking at the data and the evidence and I’m seeing that there’s a risk to Scotland of infection coming in from other parts of the UK and I think that there needs to be measures taken to contain that, then I will discuss that with other administrations as appropriate.’

Ms Sturgeon insisted her one objective during the pandemic is ‘trying to stop this virus getting out of control’.

She said anyone trying to turn the crisis into a ‘political or a constitutional argument’ needed to ‘go and take a long hard look at yourself in a mirror’.

‘If you’re being honest with yourself, you will admit that you’re failing people or risking failing people, so I’m not going to do that,’ she said, 

The PM derided the First Minister’s repeated refusal to rule out the move, saying it was ‘absolutely’ astonishing she thought it was an option

Boris Johnson insists UK DOES have enough remdesivir to treat all coronavirus patients who need it

Boris Johnson moved to allay fears of an anti-coronavirus drugs shortage today after Donald Trump bought up almost the entire global supply of remdesivir.

The US president was accused of ‘undermining’ the global coronavirus fight by splashing the cash on one of only two drugs approved to treat Covid-19 on the NHS.

Business minister Nadhim Zahawi was among those who criticised his decision to make the rest of the world compete for the medication, originally designed to treat Ebola but proven to speed up recovery time for coronavirus patients. 

But Downing Street and the Department of Health later played down the significance of the move, insisting that the UK has enough of a stockpile to treat everyone who needs it. 

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘The UK currently has a sufficient stock of Remdesivir.’ 

And the Department of Health said it had secured supplies in advance and had enough to treat every NHS patient who needs it. 

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) had earlier revealed  it had secured more than 500,000 treatment courses of remdesivir for American hospitals. 

It represents the entire global supply for July and 90 per cent of stocks for August and September, leading to fears of an autumn shortage.


The quarantine row came as Britain today announced 176 more coronavirus deaths as government experts estimated up to 3,000 people are still getting infected each day in England but the crucial R rate has dropped in every region.

Department of Health chiefs say the official number of laboratory-confirmed victims now stands at 43,906 — but separate government figures show the UK topped the dreaded 50,000 mark a month ago.  

Britain recorded more than 1,000 daily fatalities during the darkest days of its crisis but the outbreak has slowed drastically in the past month. For comparison, only 155 deaths were recorded yesterday.

Government data shows 154 Covid-19 victims were recorded last Wednesday, followed by 184 and 250 in the two weeks before. 

But the rolling seven-day average of daily deaths is still 118, exactly the same as it was this point last week. Analysis shows it is the first Wednesday to Wednesday period since the start of April that the daily average hasn’t dropped. 

Separate data released today — by a team at Public Health England and Cambridge University — predicted up to 3,000 people are still getting infected in England every day, including 1,000 in the Midlands.

The rate is in line with figures from a separate government-run Covid-19 surveillance testing scheme, as well as data from a symptom-tracking app, which suggest the speed at which the outbreak is shrinking is levelling off. 

The team believe the R rate has dropped in every region to be between 0.7-0.9, putting it in line with the official figure given by SAGE after last month saying it had risen to above the dreaded level of one in several regions. 

Meanwhile, the coronavirus crisis continued to wreak havoc on British business. 

John Lewis is expected to axe stores, workers and one of its headquarters as well as jobs at its sister business Waitrose while Harrods today revealed it must slash around 700 posts. 

The bad news at two of the UK’s best loved department stores came amid disaster for retailers up and down the country as TM Lewin, Harveys, Bensons for Beds and Upper Crust hit the wall and tens of thousands of jobs are at risk in the ailing airline and engineering sectors.

The lockdown has hammered UK business with John Lewis unveiling reopening plans for another 10 stores including its first in Wales and Scotland as well as the chain’s flagship shop in Oxford Street – but sources admitted it is ‘highly unlikely’ that all 50 will ever reopen again.

Boss Sharon White, who joined from broadcasting watchdog Ofcom before the pandemic began, has also written to 80,000 staff at the retailer and its supermarket Waitrose warning them that their bonus is unlikely next year as she tried to improve profits.

Harrods boss Michael Ward has also told his staff that 700 jobs will have to because of the need to cut costs.

In a memo to staff he said: ‘With a heavy-heart, today I need to confirm that due to the ongoing impacts of this pandemic, we as a business will need to make reductions to our workforce’ and said 14% of its 4,800 staff would likely lose their jobs’. 

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