But the fallout from this rushed lockdown announcement should not only be calculated in job losses and payments to the Treasury alone, but also in the effect it will have on the wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers after what has probably been the toughest year of their lives.
As the days draw in and the thermometer falls, many had sunk their hopes in a winter holiday. Now their dreams are left in tatters, especially after Michael Gove hinted that the lockdown might not end on December 2. The only good news is that those lucky few who did make it out of the country before Thursday will not be told to come home.
Boris Johnson is known for his brinksmanship and chronic lack of timekeeping, so his government’s failure to warn the travel industry of what might lie ahead should come as no surprise.
But there are ways the government could help the travel industry survive the winter. A sensible compromise would be to allow holidays abroad to go ahead as long as people travel to the airport in a private vehicle. We are all well versed in mask-wearing and social distancing at airports. I have taken four flights in the last month and all the airports, in the UK, Turkey and Italy, have been models of Covid compliance.
It has already been proved that aircraft cabins are Covid safe. A recent study by the US Department of Defense and United Airlines concluded that masks helped minimise exposure, even if an infected passenger was in the next seat, and that harmful particles were filtered out of the cabin within six minutes. The study concludes that a passenger would need to fly for 54 hours on a plane with an infectious person to contract Covid-19.
Add fast testing on departure and arrival into the mix and there is no good reason to stop people from travelling by air. United Airlines is leading the way. A few days ago, before the lockdown announcement, it launched a trial programme of free airport Covid-19 tests on its Newark-Heathrow route from November 16. Surely UK airlines have the capacity to act similarly. Testing doesn’t even need to be free. Most of us would be happy to pay extra just to get away. The technology and the will is there, so it is clearly the Government that is refusing permission to go ahead.