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London City Airport reopens as UK slowly opens up

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

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

The gateway to the once-bustling Canary Warf and City financial districts welcomed a short flight from the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea.

The small turboprop plane's landing and quick departure for its return leg was the only one scheduled -- but officials could hardly sound more pleased.

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

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

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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.

Heathrow and London's smaller Gatwick and Stansted airports remained partially open throughout the crisis.

- Two-metre battle -

Britain's official death toll of 42,632 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.

British pubs and restaurants are most upset about a requirement for people to stay two meters (six feet) apart in public.

Business owners complain the restriction means they cannot seat enough people to make a profit.

The measure is also partially blamed for the government's inability 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 Tuesday 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-metre requirement -- an issue that some critics view as emblematic of Mr Johnson's incongruous response to the crisis.

The Telegraph newspaper said Mr Johnson will announce a "one metre plus" rule that allows people everwhere to stand closer together if they wear masks.

- Public anger -

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

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

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

Surveys show that not everyone wants an immediate end to restrictions, but the list of grievances appears to be on the rise.

"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 Mr Hancock on a popular Sunday 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," he replied.

 

AFP

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