Sir Richard Branson, the majority owner of embattled airline Virgin Atlantic, has reportedly launched a “blistering” five-minute critique of the UK government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic during a conference call with Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
In what has been described as a “heated” conference call last Wednesday, Sir Richard lashed out at Britain’s stance on airport COVID-19 testing and the government’s insistence on enforcing a draconian 14-day quarantine on travellers arriving into England from all but 66 countries and territories.
Importantly for Virgin Atlantic whose route network is heavily focused on the United States, travellers from the U.S. are not exempted from quarantine and Brits are still banned from entering the United States under an outdated Presidental Proclamation.
Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss, alongside 14 other industry leaders, have urged the government to open up an air bridge between New York City and London by making use of COVID-19 airport testing to reduce the quarantine period to just five days.
Ministers have softened their stance on airport testing in recent weeks after first dismissing the proposal altogether but talks with U.S. counterparts to get the air bridge up and running have apparently stalled, in part because of a resurgence of novel Coronavirus cases across the United Kingdom.
Transatlantic flying accounts for 70 per cent of Virgin Atlantic’s network but with travel restrictions still very much in place the airline doesn’t anticipate operating anything more than a skeleton service until the beginning of 2021 at the earliest. Having already made 3,150 employees redundant, a further 1,150 workers are now at risk of being laid-off.
The airline has now lost over half of its workforce since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One participant of the conference call described Sir Richard’s views as “forthright” as he again urged the immediate adoption of airport testing and the creation of a New York to London air bridge. On Tuesday, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said the aviation industry was now reliant on mass pre-departure testing on every passenger to get international air travel back up and running.
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