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UK

Britain must include travel in lockdown easing roadmap - airlines

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson must show how travel will restart when he sets out his wider roadmap for easing COVID-19 restrictions on Feb. 22, UK airline bosses said.

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Coronavirus restrictions on travel have brought airlines to their knees over the last year and Britain’s biggest airlines easyJet and British Airways fear their sector could be forgotten by the government again.

“We need a clear statement on the path for international travel in the prime minister’s announcement,” easyJet Chief Executive Johan Lundgren told media at an online event on Thursday.

“The government has suggested that every other sector which includes hospitality, retail, and leisure, that it will be a roadmap for these sectors out on the Feb. 22, and international travel must be included as well.”

Airlines UK, the industry body, called for a phased re-opening of UK borders, with increasing levels of vaccinations and lower infection and hospitalisation rates paving the way for restrictions to be gradually lifted.

It warned there will need to be “a bespoke support package” from government if there is no roadmap to recovery for this summer.

After almost a year with minimal revenues, all airlines, including Jet2, TUI and Virgin Atlantic, are counting on a bumper summer recovery in three to four months time to ease pressure on their strained finances.

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Britons need certainty that restrictions will be lifted so they can book holidays, the companies said.

Currently Britain has tough border restrictions to guard against new variants of coronavirus, including requirements for 10-day quarantines, spent in a hotel for some countries, and three COVID-19 tests linked to international flights.

Many holiday destinations, such as Spain and France, also currently restrict UK passengers from entering due to worries over variants.

The government has sent out mixed messages in recent weeks over what people can expect this summer.

One minister have said people should not book holidays in Britain or abroad, while Health Minister Matt Hancock said people should wait and the government was doing “everything it can”.

Britain’s airline and travel sector has benefited from furlough schemes for workers and bigger companies have taken on government COVID-19 loans, but it has not had a sector specific package from the government.

By contrast, Air France-KLM last year received 10.4 billion euros in loans and guarantees from France and the Netherlands, while Germany bailed out Lufthansa and TUI.

Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by David Evans

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