Limit foreign travel to protect against Covid-19 variants, UK government told

By Luke Barras-hill |

Britons could be allowed to enjoy foreign holidays again from 17 May, but that remains uncertain.

A cross-party group of more than 60 MPs and peers have urged the UK government to continue curbing international travel after 17 May.

This is the date in which the ban on foreign travel for England is expected to end in line with lockdown-easing measures.

Ministers have been called to discourage all but essential overseas trips, introduce stronger border checks and provide ‘adequate financial support’ to businesses in the travel sector to guard against Covid-19 variants and avert the risk of a ‘third wave’.

In a *report published today (3 May), the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus have called for tougher measures to be implemented at the UK’s borders while setting out a series of recommendations to ‘ensure that the hard-won progress in tackling the virus is not lost and mistakes of the past are not repeated’.

SERIES OF RECOMMENDATIONS

These include reducing the risk of infection at airports and ensure passengers arriving from green, amber and red list countries are kept separate.

Improving ventilation, creating more space for social distancing at arrival halls and verifying travel documents pre-departure where possible to reduce airport queues, are among the recommendations.

In addition, the cross-party group is calling on the UK to drive the development of international standards for Covid-19 test and vaccination certificates to help border staff spot fake documents.

Heathrow has expressed concerns that the UK’s Border Force could struggle to cope with extra Covid-19 passenger checks should international travel resume again in earnest from 17 May. Source: Heathrow Airport.

The APPG, which is carrying out an ongoing cross-party inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, says the policy should be renewed on a quarterly basis.

Layla Moran MP, chair of the APPG on Coronavirus, said: “It is staggering that the government is even contemplating encouraging overseas holidays when airports are already struggling to keep the virus and new variants at bay.”

Caroline Lucas MP, vice chair of the APPG on Coronavirus, said: “Ministers are showing a shocking level of complacency about the risks posed by overseas travel.

“We know from past experience that tourism hotspots risk becoming Covid hotspots, with people mixing from all over the world.

“Instead of giving the green light to overseas holidays, we should be providing ongoing support to the travel industry and reversing aid cuts that are undermining the global fight against Covid-19.”

THOMAS COOK: BOOKINGS UP

The development comes amid uncertainty over the list of countries due to be graded under a new traffic light system.

In a report issued on 22 April, the Commons Transport Select Committee said the framework for the list of destination countries would be populated at the latest by 1 May. It is gathered that these will now be published in ‘early May’.

Speaking to BBC News today, Alan French, CEO of Thomas Cook’s new online travel agency, welcomed the potential lifting of the foreign travel ban on 17 May, but the desire to travel would need to be balanced in a safe manner.

He said the firm has witnessed healthier bookings than it had seen for some while, confirming to BBC News an increase of 40-50% week-on-week.

French added that Portugal, Spain, Greece and Croatia were destinations that Thomas Cook hoped travellers would be able to return to in the summer.

*Report based on evidence received at the APPG’s hearing with expert witnesses on Tuesday 20 April. The session heard how airports are becoming a ‘breeding ground’ for the virus, with people arriving from red, amber and green list countries often mixing in overcrowded arrival halls. 

 

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