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London City Airport reopens as UK slowly wakes up

  • Dmitry Zaks

    Agence France-Presse

London   /   Mon, June 22, 2020   /   01:52 am
London City Airport reopens as UK slowly wakes up A pedestrian walks past the Bank of England in London, UK, on June 17, 2020. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)

London City Airport awaited its first flight in nearly three months Sunday as Britain moved another step closer to fully emerging from its coronavirus lockdown on July 4.

The main air hub for London's once-bustling Canary Warf and City financial districts was expected to welcome a short-haul flight from the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea on Sunday evening.

Airport officials sounded thrilled.

They announced a deep cleaning and posted the results of a survey showing that most people -- 72 percent -- would like to fly again when it was safe.

"This clear early demand from our passengers to get back to flying is really encouraging," airport chief executive Robert Sinclair said.

But the first routes will be domestic because of international travel restrictions and only a handful of destinations will be served in the first weeks.

London businesses are also unhappy with the government's divisive decision to impose 14-day quarantines on most people arriving in Britain.

"Both blanket Foreign Office advice not to travel abroad and the mandatory two-week quarantine for all arrivals into the UK should be limited to the highest risk countries," the London First business lobby said on the airport's website.

Britain's official death toll of 42,589 is Europe's highest and third globally behind the United States and Brazil.

But health officials lowered the alert level to three on a five-point scale on Friday -- a signal the government needed to take a more business-friendly approach.

Britain's pubs and restaurants are most upset about a requirement for everyone to stay two meters apart in public at all times.

Business owners complain that the restriction means they will never be able to seat enough people to turn a profit.

The measure is also partially being blamed for the government's inability to keep its promise to reopen schools before the summer break.

British newspapers and business figures have been waging a war against it for weeks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson -- his approval ratings dropping as the economic toll of the health disaster climbs -- is expected this week to give the formal go-ahead for pubs and restaurants to start seating clients on July 4.

Some hair salons have also started taking bookings for July in anticipation.

But most will be watching to see what he has to say about the two-meter requirement -- an issue that some critics view as emblematic of Johnson's incongruous response to the crisis.

His top ministers gave every indication this weekend that the rule would be relaxed.

"There are all sorts of mitigations that can put in place to be physically closer than two meters but not have the transmission of the virus or the risk of spreading the coronavirus," Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak said a slightly smaller gap between people "will make an enormous difference I think to many businesses who are keen to see a change".

But public frustration at the government's response to the crisis is becoming clear.

A YouGov poll showed Johnson's approval rating slipping into negative territory for the first time since he took control of the government last July.

"How can it be that it looks like we are going  to end up with a higher death toll, a longer lockdown and a worse economic hit? How does that happen?" a Sky News presenter asked Hancock on a popular Sunday morning politics show.

"Well, there will be a time for this sort of analysis and it's very important in terms of insuring all the lessons are learned," Hancock replied.