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Covid-19: Stansted Airport and Ryanair launch legal challenge to Government on 'traffic light' travel system

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Stansted Airport's owner has joined forces with its biggest airline to launch a legal challenge to how the Government implements its "traffic light" travel system.

MAG (Manchester Airports Group) and Ryanair have been backed by other major UK carriers in their call for transparency over the Covid-19 classification.

In court papers – in which both Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps are named as the defendants – MAG says the Government has a duty to clearly explain how it makes decisions on categorising countries as red, amber or green and to publish the supporting data, given the "dramatic" impact these decisions have on aviation businesses.

Clockwise from top left, Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, MAG chief executive Charlie Cornish, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (48320929)
Clockwise from top left, Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, MAG chief executive Charlie Cornish, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (48320929)

MAG chief executive Charlie Cornish said: "The whole travel sector recognises the critical importance of protecting public health and we have facilitated every measure the Government has required in response to Covid-19.

"That is why we originally welcomed the Global Travel Taskforce's traffic light system, which the Government said would be based on 'a clear and consistent evidence-based approach to facilitate the safe, sustainable and robust return of international travel'.

"However, recent developments suggest that the Government is now unwilling to open up international travel by putting low-risk countries on the green list.

Manchester Airports Group chief executive Charlie Cornish (48320933)
Manchester Airports Group chief executive Charlie Cornish (48320933)

"For most countries, the traffic light seems to be stuck on amber for no obvious reason, despite having prevalence rates much lower than the UK.

"The Government is not being open and we simply cannot understand how it is making decisions that are fundamental to our ability to plan and to giving customers the confidence to book travel ahead.

"These issues must be resolved urgently – and ahead of the review point later this month – to allow everyone to understand how the system operates and to create the opportunity for international travel to resume to the fullest extent possible over the summer."

MAG, which also operates Manchester and East Midlands airports, said the judicial review was prompted by the lack of transparency in how the Government made decisions in its first review of the traffic light lists on June 3 – which saw Portugal unexpectedly and without prior notice moved to amber, causing chaos for holidaymakers and the industry.

Ryanair aircraft (48320931)
Ryanair aircraft (48320931)

At the same time, the operator argued, no other countries were categorised green, despite "compelling data" to support some being classified as low-risk.

The next of the three-weekly reviews of the lists is due at the end of June. MAG has called on the Government to publish the Covid-19 prevalence thresholds it uses to determine whether destinations are classed as red, amber or green, as well as any other criteria, advice or information that informs its decision-making.

Michael O'Leary, chief executive of Ryanair Group, said: "The UK's traffic light system has been a complete shambles from the beginning.

Ryanair Group chief executive Michael O'Leary (48320978)
Ryanair Group chief executive Michael O'Leary (48320978)

"This go-stop-go-stop policy is causing untold damage to the aviation industry and frustrating and upsetting millions of British families when they see their holiday plans and family visits disrupted by the Government's mismanagement of international travel.

"We call on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to explain the scientific basis behind this system that the Government seem to make up as they go along and to establish a data-driven, transparent model that could restore confidence in air travel ahead of the very crucial peak summer months."

The current green list countries and territories are Madeira, Israel, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Ascension Island.

Under the Government's traffic light system, people returning from those places will have to take a test pre-departure and another PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test within two days of landing.

Those returning from amber list countries are also required to self-isolate for 10 days and take an extra PCR test, while those coming back from red list locations have to book a Government-approved hotel quarantine package.

All passengers arriving in the UK, regardless of their destination, need to complete a mandatory passenger locator form pre-travel.

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