MPs and experts urged the Government to rethink its 14-day quarantine for anyone flying into Britain — to avoid killing off the travel industry.
The call came as it was revealed on one day last week just 23 passengers used Gatwick Airport. It usually handles 45,000 people a day.
Tory MP Henry Smith, whose Crawley constituency covers Gatwick, said the tiny numbers showed the scale of the problem — and made a rapid rethink on 14-day quarantine essential.
He said: “It’s well-intentioned but it hasn’t been thought through.
“It sounds good, to stop people at the borders so we don’t get re-infections of Covid-19. But I don’t think it is going to be a benefit to public health and will prolong the economic damage.”
Travel industry experts say quarantine, which begins on Monday, will cost Britain’s tourism sector as much as £15billion if it goes on through the summer.
One study suggests the usual figure of 40million visitors could be slashed by around two thirds.
Steven Freudmann of the Institute for Travel and Tourism said: “Quarantine will be an unmitigated disaster — you may as well put up a sign saying Britain is closed. It’s ludicrous.”
EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren said: “It was frustrating the Government chose not to consult our industry.
“British holidaymakers will think twice about going abroad if they have to return to quarantine for 14 days.”
The Government is said to be split over quarantine, with the Home Office and Health in favour — but Transport and the Treasury concerned over the effects on the economy.
Sir Edward Lister, one of Boris Johnson’s closest advisers, is said to be “sympathetic” to the idea of “air bridges” — which would allow reduced restrictions on flights between countries with low virus transmission rates.
A Downing Street source said: “Air bridges are something which has always been in the policy — the debate now is how quickly and how many corridors you can have.
“A lot of that will depend on the scientific advice. But it is definitely something we are looking at.”
Former Tory transport minister Theresa Villiers said the 14-day quarantine had been an “overreaction” and called for a U-turn.
And ex-Brexit secretary David Davis said quarantine sent a terrible message to the world.
He added: “It says that while everyone else is coming out of lockdown, we are locking down further.”
The Air Transport Association said its research suggested UK families are “relatively keen” to travel again.
It found almost half are willing to travel within a month or two of the virus coming under control.
EasyJet hopes to ease anxiety about new flight rules by giving children face masks inspired by comic book characters.
Captain David Morgan, director of flight operations, said: “We know the airport environment could feel daunting for younger travellers when flying resumes.
“We hope this helps children enjoy flying with us and make things easier for parents too.”