Coronavirus: Plea for targeted quarantines as travel firms feel second wave pain

Holiday firm TUI has called on the government to take a regional, rather than a national, approach to the imposition of coronavirus quarantine measures after it cancelled flights to mainland Spain.

The company’s UK managing director, Andrew Flintham, told Sky News a more “nuanced” attitude should be taken after ministers gave just hours’ notice of a decision to force a 14-day isolation period on people arriving in the UK from all of Spain, citing a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Figures from Spanish authorities suggest clusters of infections in Barcelona and elsewhere on the mainland but relatively few cases on its islands – also popular with tourists.

Growing fears of a second wave of coronavirus infections across western Europe took their toll on companies exposed to the travel market on Monday – stocks that felt the worst of the pain when investors took fright at the start of the crisis in Europe in late February.

Frankfurt-traded TUI shares were 15% lower in early deals while easyJet nosedived by 14%.

British Airways-owner IAG was down by 9% while Ryanair, which had warned of a lack of clarity on the months ahead just hours earlier, saw its shares fall 8%.

The biggest fear for investors in such companies is that governments are forced to restrict movements more widely – forcing a U-turn on expectations among airlines and holiday operators of a gradual return to normal life.

With that in mind, Mr Flintham said it would be helpful to have regional travel advice for countries, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach.

He told Sky’s Kay [email protected] programme: “If the Balearics are still OK to go, and clearly the travel advice is you can travel, should we have a different quarantine or no quarantine for those and not lump it all together as in one big total Spain quarantine?”

TUI said it had made representations to the UK government on this point.

Mr Flintham added: “We’re really after a little bit of a nuance because, let’s be honest, going forward somewhere like the United States, it could be there’s a problem in Florida and not in California and you wouldn’t want to close the whole of the United States to tourists.”

Julie Palmer, partner at recovery specialists Begbies Traynor, said of the renewed share price reaction: “Quarantines, falling consumer spending and anxieties about being in a confined space with others have all caused the airline sector to take a nose dive.

“While these heavy losses are to be expected the real issue is what’s to come. Several airlines can survive a number of months due to high cash stocks, but the mass disruption to travel caused by countries experiencing waves at different times will have this sector tied in knots for months.

“With the UK government placing its own quarantine on Spain over the weekend at short notice the implication is that this could happen to travellers from and to other countries.

“Such unpredictability will make holidaymakers think twice before travelling. There is a huge piece about travel safety that airlines and holiday companies will have to do before holidaymakers feel completely safe to travel again, but they will have to be quick or we could see more airlines in distress before the end of the year.”

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