The United Kingdom launched a 3-tier lockdown with respect to its pandemic response and limitations. Does this threaten the proposed New York-London travel corridor this winter?
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UK Announces 3-Tier Lockdown System
This week, the United Kingdom (UK) announced a 3-Tier Lockdown system to protect its citizens and limit the spread of COVID-19. At each level of the system, liberties are adjusted based on the infection rate with the third tier being a virtual total lockdown, and one still imposing some steep restrictions. It seems that tiers will be re-evaluated every four weeks.
One meme I saw characterized Tier 2 as such:
- Can people from different households meet?
- What about the pub?
- Can you meet in groups of more than six?
- What about schools?
- Can people go to the theatres if they are wearing masks?
- What about an aeroplane?
- Do you know what you’re doing?
That about sums up the situation in Britain these days.
The US and UK Had Proposed a Safety Travel Corridor
In discussions whereby passengers from the US and the UK could travel between the two countries with reduced quarantine requirements. The effort is focused on restarting business travel but the timing would also work well for tourists/ex-patriates aiming for launch before the holidays.
“While nothing has yet been finalized, a Homeland Security official told the WSJthe agency was in the early stages of a plan to “safely encourage trans-Atlantic travel while mitigating public-health risks.” Part of the discussions concerns the length of quarantine: Some, like transportation officials and an airline trade group, support a 24 hour isolation period, while others are arguing for a four to seven-day quarantine.” – Alison Fox, Travel and Leisure
Speculation has grown that opening the corridor would require a negative COVID-19 result and a limited quarantine period. Hawaii has tried both. The mandatory 14-day quarantine was successful in limiting Hawaii’s exposure but crushed the state’s economy. With the increased availability of testing and cooperation from airports and airlines, testing prior to take-off is far more realistic and Hawaii has altered its model to negative test results as the sole requirement.
If both a negative test and a quarantine are required, it would be the first example of such to my knowledge.
System Is Broken
Comically, the three tiers begin at “Medium” followed by “High” and “Very High” as if the managers at Starbucks chose the naming convention for each tier. Tiers one and two are mostly the same adding only a mixture of household limitation.
As many readers may know, my wife and I lived in Manchester twice for a total of three years and make an annual pilgrimage back, usually around this time of year. We have friends we visit and have been in touch with them regarding Manchester’s current status. The outlook is grim if they are moved from Tier 2 to Tier 3 with no clear path or method to dropping back to a lower tier.
Manchester is desperately trying to avoid a move to Tier 3 as it would essentially put the Northwest region at a standstill. According to the BBC, the UK recently experienced a second wave as has most of Europe. The UK added 18,890 cases with 138 deaths, an effective mortality rate of 0.7%.
Tier System Creates Instability for Travel Corridor
Changes to the tiers may move faster or slower than the perceived four-week review period. With respect to the proposed travel corridor, the tier of the domicile of the passenger may be a factor. Or, instead it could be the departure or arrival airport but that can cause confusion. For example, if a passenger from a Tier 3 area wanted to fly utilizing the corridor from London (assuming its a Tier 1 or 2 at the time) to New York City, could they simply drive to Heathrow and travel?
For those in the US, New York City may be below infection limits, but what about passengers travelling from “hot zones” to New York for a connection?
Another issue with the tier system is whether the system is dynamically updated at a pace that helps passengers, airlines, and hotels or hurts them. If a large category change occurred in London, specifically around Heathrow, would airlines be able to add or remove flights quickly enough to comply with the order and match demand?
The purpose of the proposed travel corridor was to re-open travel in a safe manner with protocols in place that would be manageable for the duration of the pandemic. But the tier system does the opposite, creating instability and uncertainty as cases rise but mortality falls. Instead of opening the borders in a manner that is clear (testing results, agreed-upon quarantine procedures, single points of entry and departure) the plan could change week-to-week or be stuck in a rut for a month. It could mean that some Londoners could travel while others could not even if they met the negative test requirements and followed quarantine.
We can’t know for sure how either the Travel Corridor nor the UK Tier System will work in practice over the coming weeks. The only thing I know for certain in this world is that when the pubs close in England, which didn’t happen even as bombs were falling during the Blitzkrieg, is that if the government closes them down it will get very, very ugly in Britain. They’ve also cancelled the Christmas Markets, an unsurprising move that admittedly breaks my heart a little bit. As such, even if the Tier system and Travel Corridor worked as planned, my family won’t be in England this year for just the second time since 2008. Generally, the two systems seem to counter the actions of the other and therefore I doubt the Travel Corridor will surface while the Tier System is in place.
What do you think? Does the 3-Tier System jeopardize the New York-London travel corridor? Do the tier requirements make sense or are they too strict or too lenient?