Calls for clarity, cheaper Covid testing and more solutions from the Government have followed the release of its taskforce’s findings into international travel during the pandemic.
The Global Travel Taskforce has stopped short of confirming whether foreign holidays will be permitted from May 17 or which destinations people can visit without self-isolating on their return.
Announcing the group’s findings, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps did confirm a traffic light system would be used to categorise countries based on risk, but the Department for Transport says it will not be until early next month that it will decide “which countries will be on which list”.
But Mr Shapps also announced a “framework” for resuming overseas leisure travel which would require all arrivals to take pre-departure and post-arrival coronavirus tests.
Post-arrival tests must be the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) type which cost around £120, he revealed, despite pleas from the travel sector for the use of cheaper and faster lateral flow tests.
While Mr Shapps said the Government would work with the travel industry and private Covid testing providers to reduce the cost of foreign trips, the news drew a heated reaction from some industry figures.
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren claimed the plan was “a blow to all travellers” and risked “making flying only for the wealthy”.
He added: “As the rest of British society and the economy opens up, it makes no sense to treat travel, particularly to low-risk countries, differently.”
Mark Tanzer, boss of travel trade organisation Abta, said permitting the use of lateral flow tests would “make international travel more accessible and affordable whilst still providing an effective mitigation against reimportation of the virus”.
Time and again the UK Government have been devoid of strategy when it comes to protecting our borders against CovidShadow transport secretary Jim McMahon
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, said the announcement “does not represent a reopening of travel as promised by ministers”.
Labour’s shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon called for more clarity on the Government’s plans and a pledge for financial support for the industry.
“Time and again the UK Government have been devoid of strategy when it comes to protecting our borders against Covid,” Mr McMahon said in a statement.
“At a time when cases are rising across Europe and the threat of variants remains deeply worrying, we need a comprehensive hotel quarantine system, to help protect the gains of the vaccine. The first priority has to be keeping people safe.
Mr McMahon demanded more details about the criteria by which the traffic light system would be decided, and said the Government “must come up with a comprehensive financial support package for the aviation sector and its supply chain”.
We urgently ask the Government to at the very least maintain the current furlough scheme until September for the entire travel supply chainThe Business Travel Association
The Business Travel Association (BTA) lambasted the report as “yet another hammer blow” for business travel, and called on the Government to “at the very least” maintain the furlough scheme for the travel industry until September.
“Whilst we welcome the acknowledgement of the importance of business and leisure travel to the UK economy, this theoretical framework provides no more certainty than the Prime Minister’s brief comments on Monday,” BTA CEO Clive Wratten said in a statement.
“The traffic light system is something we have long campaigned for. However, it is only one piece of the jigsaw if the aviation, business, and leisure travel industries are to survive.
“We urgently ask the Government to at the very least maintain the current furlough scheme until September for the entire travel supply chain. This will hopefully enable us to contribute to UK plc as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Rory Boland, editor of industry publication Which? Travel, said the report was “an important step towards resuming international travel” but “falls short in providing solutions”, adding the current cost of Covid tests risked pricing people out of taking holidays.
“There is also little detail on reassurances that destinations won’t suddenly be moved from green to amber or red, putting travellers at risk of last-minute changes and unaffordable quarantine costs,” he said in a statement.
The Board of Airline Representatives in the UK (BAR UK) welcomed the report, saying it would help airlines prepare for the return of international flying.
“Clearly we would like the Government to sharpen their pencils on the plan in advance of implementation but the framework creates the building blocks to open up further through the built-in review periods,” the board’s CEO Dale Keller said in a statement.
Mr Keller said BAR UK would also propose initiatives such as the acceptance of rapid lateral flow tests.