The UK has had huge success with its vaccine programme, and understandably the Government wants to avoid anything that jeopardises this progress. Thus it has been incredibly careful about the future of travel.
Currently most international travel is banned and new laws that come into place on March 29 will mean extend that rule to June 30. Brits could reportedly face a fine of £5,000 if they leave the UK without a reasonable excuse.
The question most people want to know in all this is what’s happening with summer holidays? The decision ultimately lies with the Government’s Global Travel Taskforce, which will set out a road map for travel in early April. Boris Johnson plans to announce its decisions on April 5, and the earliest date for travel will be May 17.
Already there have been debates about how relaxed travel should be. Graham Brady, one of the most “hawkish” MPs in wanting lockdown to be eased, wrote yesterday for ConservativeHome about why we need to press forward with fully loosening restrictions. “That the UK could consider throwing away a major advantage of the world-leading vaccine rollout through an excess of caution on air travel, particularly prompted by a theoretical risk from imported variants, is almost unthinkable”, were his words.
Businesses, too, understandably want clarity about reopenings. Ryanair has even announced plans to increase its flights to 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by July – in a clear indication of what it expects the Government to do.
But there have also been calls through the Coronavirus crisis for the Government to close the borders. With the threat of new Coronavirus variants, some which will come from countries that cannot detect changes to the virus (as a result of inadequate or no genomic sequencing regimes), the argument is that we should keep as shut off as possible, particularly given the struggles our European neighbours have had with their vaccine rollouts.
The Global Travel Taskforce will create a risk-based framework to assess how safe travel is. Although it is using only four factors to decide restrictions, they are broad and include:
- “the global and domestic epidemiological picture
- the prevalence and location of any ‘variants of concern’
- the progress of vaccine rollouts here and abroad
- what more the government has learned about the efficacy of vaccines on variants, and the impact on transmission, hospitalisation and deaths”
So the Taskforce (and Government) has given itself a lot of room here, lest something suddenly changes in the Covid situation. As the crisis has shown, it can be extremely difficult to predict what will happen next, and after the Christmas debacle, the Prime Minister is trying to keep his optimism in check.
Ultimately it looks like the Government will go for a “halfway house solution” in travel. It has never opted for anything as severe as closing the borders, and it’s unlikely it will do that given how far along we are in the crisis. But there’s talk of a returning traffic light system for countries – meaning that they can be given the green (or red) light depending on their Coronavirus status. It would act as a de facto border closure between areas deemed problematic in terms of their Coronavirus statistics and/ or vaccination regime.
Given the state of Europe’s vaccine regimes, it seems highly unlikely anyone will be jetting off to, say, Germany, on May 17, nor that Germany itself would allow this to go ahead (these are two-way decisions, incidentally). But again, the Travel Taskforce’s criteria is broad so that it can accommodate changes in data – for instance, if Germany suddenly accelerated its vaccine roll out. So we shouldn’t feel too pessimistic about travel.
Part of the reason the Government might feel emboldened to be tougher on travel restrictions is that the public mood appears favourable to border controls. People are tired and just want to sit at the pub, even if that means a Parisien adventure is prohibited for the next however-long. Now it is even fashionable to say “the UK should have closed the borders” earlier in the Covid crisis, but in March 2020 that wasn’t the case. In fact, I think it would have played into the left-wing accusations of closed off Little England/ Brexit Britain (remembers those days?).
Either way, it’s safer to bet on Airbnb UK for now…