More restrictions ‘could endanger Island air links’

VITAL air links could be lost if Jersey’s Covid border restrictions are too draconian, the Health Minister has warned.

Passengers arriving on the first regular commercial flight into Jersey after lockdown (29218478)
Passengers arriving on the first regular commercial flight into Jersey after lockdown (29218478)

Deputy Richard Renouf said that Island policymakers had to be mindful that airlines could drop routes if passengers stopped travelling.

In the past few weeks, a number of routes have already been axed, including the easyJet services to Edinburgh and Newcastle.

The minister made his comments after announcing a partial U-turn on plans to introduce new restrictions on people arriving from the UK based on the red, amber and green traffic-light scheme of risk ratings.

He said: ‘There is a risk that if our policy turns large areas of the UK to amber then people are not going to travel in the same numbers and the consequence might be that carriers don’t put on flights and we lose connectivity,’ he said.

‘Airlines need to have a certain percentage of seats occupied on flights otherwise they will not operate a route. We have already lost some routes like the easyJet links to Edinburgh and Southend. That’s not a criticism of the airlines; it’s the way they operate their businesses.’

The decision to postpone the implementation of new ratings came as Jersey sought to refine the system so that areas with low infection rates were not labelled amber as a result of being in the same region as one or two ‘hotspots’.

‘You could have had a county that was classed as amber, when large parts of it were rural and had low rates, with the county town being the only area with higher rates,’ Deputy Renouf explained.

Matt Thomas, chief executive of Ports of Jersey, said the change of tack was designed to avoid using a ‘blunt instrument’ that would penalise those coming from areas with relatively low Covid rates.

‘The government is trying to reconcile how to get the benefits of connectivity – for the visitor economy and for Islanders visiting family or going to university – while at the same time doing so in a safe way.’

He admitted that the challenge was to communicate the details of a more sophisticated approach to passengers and operators.

‘We completely understand that it’s challenging but this virus doesn’t stand still and things are changing on a week-to-week basis,’ he added.

Robert Mackenzie, managing director of CI Travel Group, said communicating the changes to clients due to travel to Jersey had been very difficult.

‘We contacted affected customers on Friday and many of them cancelled their trips or postponed to later this year or 2021 and then on Saturday things changed and they could still have travelled,’ he said. ‘There’s been confusion, disappointment and some anger.’

Mr Mackenzie said the industry hoped the government would react positively to feedback about the timing of announcements.

‘Friday afternoon and Saturday isn’t a great time to be announcing a new policy that comes in on a Monday,’ he added.

In a government briefing staged yesterday afternoon, more detail was provided about last Saturday’s decision to delay the planned introduction of new ratings.

A spokesman said that up to 20% of passengers due to arrive on Monday would have been told the change left them required to self-isolate for at least six days, having had no prior warning that this would be necessary. This would have caused significant stress and difficulty for passengers, many of whom were from the older age brackets, he added.

During the briefing it was also confirmed that work on a refined system for the UK, using data from ‘lower-tier’ authorities such as boroughs or districts rather than ‘upper-tier’ counties, was continuing and was likely to be announced around the middle of next week.

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