Roadmap to international travel restart ‘lacks clear direction’

Airline and airport trade association bodies have expressed their disappointment with the latest government announcement on the easing of lockdown restrictions, which has warned that it was “too early” to…

traffic light

Airline and airport trade association bodies have expressed their disappointment with the latest government announcement on the easing of lockdown restrictions, which has warned that it was “too early” to say whether non-essential international travel could be restarted.

The government announced a new traffic-light system yesterday which would pave the way for people to take holidays abroad or other non-essential international travel, but declined to state whether holidays outside of the UK would be permitted from May 17.

England’s roadmap for exiting lockdown states that non-essential international travel would not be allowed until May 17 at the earliest, but an update from the government’s Global Travel Taskforce read that: “Given the state of the pandemic abroad, and the progress of vaccination programmes in other countries, we are not yet in a position to confirm that non-essential international travel can resume from that point.”

Risk-based traffic light system

A risk-based traffic light system will be implemented when non-essential travel returns. The Government has promised to confirm whether the current ban will be lifted before May 17, with the loosening of restrictions based on the latest information on the situation with variants and vaccines.

Countries within the “green” category – thought to pose a low risk – would have no isolation requirement upon return to the UK, but both pre-departure and post-arrival Covid tests would still be needed. People travelling to amber category countries will be required to self-isolate for 10 days on their return, while those travelling to high-risk “red-list” countries will face a 10 day mandatory hotel-based quarantine.

Decisions will be driven by “data and evidence”

The update from the taskforce did not identify potential “green list” countries or give information when non-essential international travel might resume. It added: “These decisions will be driven by the data and evidence nearer the time, which we cannot predict now.”

The Government has advised people not to book holidays or non-essential trips abroad until “the picture is clearer.”

No clarity on “roadmap to normality”

Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, warned the announcement could result in people being put off travelling, even to ‘low risk’ countries: “Whilst we support the establishment of a framework for restarting international travel and welcome the removal of self-isolation for arrivals from green countries, today’s announcement does not provide the clarity we were seeking on the roadmap back towards normality. We await further details but the measures indicated, including the potential for multiple tests for travellers even from ‘green countries,’ will prevent meaningful travel even to low-risk destinations.”

Alderslade called for “transparency” when allocating tiers to different countries. “Of critical importance will be moving countries – transparently – through the tiers into ‘green’, reviewing measures urgently in light of the latest and best available evidence so that they are effective but also proportionate to the risk, and crucially embracing cost-effective rapid testing thus ensuring the alignment of international travel with the domestic economy, which will be so important for the UK’s economic recovery.”

“Onerous testing” could “limit possibilities” for travel to green list countries

Airport Operators Association Chief Executive Karen Dee added: “It is disappointing that the initial update from the Prime Minister continues to suggest significant barriers to international travel and may push back the date of restart beyond May 17.”

“While a new green category with no isolation requirement on return to the UK is very welcome, potentially costly and onerous testing requirements would limit the possibilities for many people to travel to countries in the green category.”

“We look forward to further detailed on the Global Travel Taskforce’s report on April 12 and urge the Government to scrutinise the evidence provided by industry, health experts and others that set out how a risk-based, proportionate system could open up aviation without quarantine and with affordable, rapid testing.”

“Any prolonged closure of UK airports’ key destinations in Europe in particular will have major financial impacts that the Government will need to mitigate.”

Countries will be placed into different risk categories thought to be based on a number of factors, including vaccination rates, infection rates, prevalence of “variants of concern”, and the destination’s capabilities for detecting variants through genomic sequencing.

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