Branson rebukes Hancock over virus tests
SIR Richard Branson has lashed out over the Government’s failings on airport testing in a conference call with Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary.
The Virgin Atlantic founder said the failure to restore quarantine-free flights between London and New York had left the airline industry facing a bleak autumn and winter, according to sources on the call between Mr Hancock and business leaders. Sir Richard is understood to have launched a blistering five-minute critique of ministers’ Covid policy. One listener said the British Virgin Islands-based billionaire was “forthright” in his views during the discussion on Wednesday last week.
Virgin Atlantic announced 1,000 job losses earlier this month and was forced into a £1.2bn rescue deal after the pandemic struck.
Sir Richard was particularly unhappy that travel to the US was still heavily restricted, and called for unhindered travel to New York to be restored now the city had low Covid case rates. He also took Mr Hancock to task over the lack of testing at airports, which many other countries have achieved.
Virgin Atlantic signed a letter calling for the implementation of airport testing two weeks ago. Other signatories included lobby groups Airlines for America and Airlines UK, as well as Heathrow. A report commissioned by Heathrow and IAG said the lack of agreement was costing the economy £3.5bn. The Department for Health and a spokesman for Sir Richard declined to comment.