Grant Shapps says UK being ‘cautious’ over travel list
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There are fears even fewer people will risk going on a holiday if a new “amber watch list” is introduced, listing countries in danger of turning red and requiring quarantine upon return.
A Government source confirmed it is possible an “amber watch list” may be announced.
Spain and Italy, it is reported, have been mentioned in talks about which countries could feature in the new category.
The anxiety comes as the Government prepares this week to revise its “green list” of countries that can be visited without having to quarantine on return.
Ministers are under pressure to drop the testing requirement for vaccinated passengers and are accused of taking an “overly cautious approach” that is jeopardising jobs.
The prospect of an amber watch list was condemned by Tim Alderslade, chief executive of industry body Airlines UK.
He said: “Cooking up yet another tier — the sixth since the Global Travel Taskforce was published — would be a further blow [in] the middle of what is supposed to be the peak summer season. Amber is a glaring warning sign for passengers — whether it’s the watchlist or not — and the constant changes are leaving families totally confused.
“The Government must focus on getting more countries onto the green list. That’s the single best way to provide the necessary reassurance to families desperate to get away.”
Describing the impact of testing requirements, he said: “[Too] many travellers are being forced to pay for expensive tests — essentially an extra tax on travel — putting holidays and reunions out of reach for many. [There’s] no reason why many more countries in Europe and around the world can’t go on the green list, giving travellers a major boost and supporting the tens of thousands of travel jobs still at risk, across almost every constituency in the country”.
Airline bookings to and from the UK were at 16 percent of 2019 levels in June, the lowest among the large European markets, according to the International Air Transport Association.
Henry Smith, the Crawley Conservative MP who chairs the all-party group for the future of aviation, warned that an “unambitious green list” is “holding the UK back” and urged the Government to “get Britain flying again”.
He said: “This week the Government has an opportunity to be far more ambitious during the approach of the final weeks of summer.”
We need the Government to step up, increase the nations on the green list and provide sector-specific financial support.
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association
Ryanair called for the complete axing of the traffic light system.
A spokesman said: “To support the aviation industry — one of the most impacted by the Covid pandemic — the UK Government should scrap the shambolic traffic light system, allow all vaccinated citizens and children under 12 to travel freely without any restrictions, and implement tourism recovery schemes that would allow airlines to rebuild traffic and connectivity, such as a suspension of the [air passenger duty] tax.
“With the majority of the UK’s and EU’s adult population fully vaccinated, the UK is still lagging behind the rest of Europe in international travel and connectivity and it is crucial that Boris Johnson’s Government reacts now, abolish the traffic light system and give customers much-needed confidence to travel this summer.”
An Easyjet spokesman pressed for an end to the testing requirement for vaccinated travellers to countries on the green and amber lists, arguing this hiked up the cost of a holiday.
He said: “Much of Europe should be added to the green list as with lower infection rates across almost all of Europe than in the UK it is safe to do so. As the rest of the economy emerges from this lockdown with some precautions in place, there is no reason why the same is not possible for travel.
“Crucially, testing should be removed for low-risk green and amber countries for fully vaccinated passengers as it remains a costly and unnecessary barrier for many to be able to travel – green should mean green.”
At present, people returning to England from a green list country must take a Covid-19 test before departing and have proof of a negative result. They must also book a test for day two after their return.
A Government source dismissed calls for the tests to be axed, saying that “testing isn’t going anywhere”.
However, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab fuelled optimism last week when he said he was “increasingly confident that more countries will go either on amber or on to green”.
The Government also signalled its desire to restore air links with important markets when it announced that from tomorrow (MON AUG 2) people fully vaccinated in the European Union and the United States will be able to travel to England from amber countries without having to quarantine on arrival.
Karen Dee, chief executive of the Airport Operators Association, warned of the risk to the UK economy if jobs are lost across the aviation sector.
Pushing for more countries to be added to the green list and for support for the industry, she said: “The Government’s overly cautious approach has had a damaging impact on our airports with passenger numbers significantly below our usual summer levels. This continues to have major financial impacts for our airports and we need the Government to step up, increase the nations on the green list and provide sector-specific financial support.
“Without this support over the coming months many jobs in aviation will be put at risk, our national recovery will be stalled and the Government’s ‘global Britain’ and levelling up priorities will be left in tatters.”
Pressure to ditch the restrictions is also coming from the Institute of Economic Affairs, a highly influential right of centre think tank.
Chief operating officer Andy Mayer said: “With even gloomy public health bureaucrats predicting the end of the pandemic by autumn there are no excuses for the maintenance of costly travel restrictions. Travel in normal times is ‘at own risk’, with the responsibility on you to make adjustments for your own health concerns. That can now return.
“If minimal restrictions are still required for this summer, they need to be sensible and justified…
“Red listing should target new variant outbreaks, not case numbers. Ultimately, the government needs to stop peddling a political fantasy of policy-driven safe spaces.
“This is just increasing public anxiety while causing serious economic harm to an industry already on their knees.”
Claire Walker, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said there should be “no hesitation in adding a country to the green or amber lists if the data shows it is safe to do so”.
Munira Wilson, the Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman, pressed for clarity.
She said: “Throughout this pandemic, we have all torn our hair out at the Government making up new guidance on the hoof. From the endless and random tier system last year to the ever-changing and confusing colour-coded travel advice this summer.
“We have already seen the introduction of Amber Plus, and if the Government keeps adding different categories, it will make a mockery of their attempt to keep guidance simple.
“As well as millions of holiday-goers anxious about losing out, we can’t forget those who are desperate to see family members abroad, who have been cut off since the start of the pandemic. Britons travelling abroad next week need to be treated with respect.”
A Government spokeswoman defended the system, saying: “The traffic light system plays an important role in ensuring we can protect the health of the UK public whilst also opening travel safely and sustainably. We recognise the challenging times facing the sector, which is why we have committed around £7billion of support by September 2021 and continue to work with industry to help them navigate this difficult period.”
Henry Smith MP, Chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation
The announcement last week that fully vaccinated people flying to the UK from Europe and the USA will be exempt from quarantine is welcome progress that will boost travel and will reunite people with their loved ones.
However, our aviation and travel industries remain largely grounded. They were one of the first industries to be hit by the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and will be one the last to recover, with passenger numbers still at historic lows. The economic and social consequences have been devastating, with businesses losing billions and thousands of jobs lost.
As a result of our overly cautious approach to international travel, the risks to these businesses and their employees remain very real, with over half of all aviation employees still stuck on furlough and an unambitious green list holding the UK back.
The best way to help our aviation, travel and tourism industries is to get Britain flying again. This week the Government has an opportunity to be far more ambitious during the approach to the final weeks of summer.
Whilst this will help the industry, it will not be enough on its own. After a weak season which in normal times would be a peak, Government must act further and protect jobs through a sector-specific extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
We will need our aviation and travel industry to be fighting fit as we look to bounce back from the pandemic, but to do this it needs sufficient support and for the Government to shift away from the current approach which is holding us back.
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