100,000 international passengers pass through Belfast International Airport during pandemic

More than 100,000 international passengers have passed through Belfast International Airport during the pandemic, figures suggest.
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People boarded or got off international flights at the airport 110,071 times between April and November, the latest Civil Aviation Authority data shows.

However, this was still only 6% of the 1.9 million recorded over the same period in 2019.

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The figures include arrivals and departures, and travellers who changed from one aircraft to another as part of the same journey.

File photo of a plane taking off at sunsetFile photo of a plane taking off at sunset
File photo of a plane taking off at sunset

Around 19.5 million passengers travelled to and from UK airports included in the data in the eight months to November, although this was down 90% from around 186 million the previous year.

The UK Government recently scrapped all “travel corridors” – which had allowed people to enter the country from certain destinations without self-isolating – to prevent the spread of new Covid-19 variants.

The major policy shift came after ministers announced inbound travellers must now test negative for Covid-19 before boarding a plane.

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But the Government has come under fire for not acting sooner to tighten up the UK’s borders.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended travel measures after it was reported that Home Secretary Priti Patel had backed tougher restrictions during the early stages of the pandemic.

In remarks first reported by political website Guido Fawkes, Ms Patel allegedly told the Conservative Friends of India: “On ‘should we have closed our borders earlier’, the answer is yes. I was an advocate of closing them last March.”

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon said: “The Government’s dither and delay in taking action saw vital opportunities to help curb the spread of the virus missed.

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“Their lack of a clear strategy, including a proper airport testing regime, was seemingly a concern for even the Home Secretary.

“Labour has called for ministers to come to Parliament to explain what has been learned from these critical mistakes and outline a proper strategy for protecting our borders against emerging strains of the virus.”

Asked about calls to close UK borders to foreign visitors, Environment Secretary George Eustice today (January 22) told Sky News “we always keep these things under review”, adding: “And it has been considered.”

The most common country for international departures and arrivals at Belfast International Airport was Poland – around 28,400 passengers passed through the airport between April and November on their way to or from the European nation.

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This was followed by Spain (22,700) and Portugal, excluding Madeira (13,400).

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK, said he supported the recent government measures to “keep borders safe and the public protected”.

“However with the lockdown, travel ban and now mandatory pre-departure testing, UK airlines have started 2021 having taken one step forwards and two steps back,” he said.

It is vital airlines get further financial support as part of a recovery plan, Mr Alderslade added.

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A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “The UK border has remained open to ensure critical flows of goods and people have been able to continue, while measures for new arrivals such as self-isolation and testing are helping to keep the public safe.”