MPs urge ministers to ‘discourage’ foreign holidays
By Neil Lancefield, PA Transport Correspondent
Restrictions on foreign holidays should be maintained to protect the UK from Covid-19 variants, MPs have warned.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus urged the Government to “discourage all international leisure travel”.
But a travel firm boss said there has been “great progress” in countries such as Portugal and Spain in preparing for the return of holidaymakers.
Thomas Cook chief executive Alan French said he expects most popular destinations, particularly in Europe, to be open to UK holidaymakers.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “When the holidays proper start at the end of June, we are expecting most of the countries that the UK goes on holiday to – Europe particularly – to be open.
“We are expecting Portugal, Spain, Greece, Croatia and so forth to be open, it would be nice if Turkey was open.
“When we look at what is going on in those countries, both in terms of infection rates and how they are preparing for holidaymakers, I think there is great progress being made.”
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said he recognised a “natural desire to go further and to go faster” with the road map but the Government’s priority is to make changes when “safe” to do so.
He told Sky News: “I get that a lot of people over the course of the last year or so have missed travelling, they have missed seeing family and loved ones – I totally, totally get that.
“I understand the desire to move forward as quickly as possible but we have always said we will do this at a pace that is safe, that gives the scientists enough time to properly analyse the data after each set of restrictions are lifted.”
The APPG has claimed the importation of new variants could “lead to further lockdowns, and inevitably, further loss of life”.
The cross-party group described airport arrival halls as “a breeding ground for infection”.
It recommended that passengers returning from green, amber and red countries under the new risk-based traffic light system do not mix.
Passengers’ documents should be checked before they enter an arrival halls, where possible, so those being transported to quarantine facilities are moved “rapidly”, the group added.
It also called for “adequate financial support” to be provided to travel firms, and for a reversal to the reduction in funding for international research projects assisting the fight against the virus.
The ban on foreign holidays is expected to be lifted for people in England from May 17 as part of the next easing of coronavirus restrictions.
But the APPG wants the Government to “maintain curbs on international leisure travel” beyond that date.
Lucy Moreton, professional officer for the Immigration Services Union, which represents border immigration and customs staff, told a hearing held by the group last month that around 100 people are trying to enter the UK each day with “fake” certificates showing recent negative coronavirus tests.
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, who chairs the APPG, 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.
“Urgent measures are needed to better detect fake Covid test certificates, reduce overcrowding in arrival halls and separate out those arriving from red and amber list countries.
“The country’s biosecurity cannot rely on border staff spotting a spelling error.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, claimed the “best financial support the Government can now offer the travel sector is to open up overseas travel as planned from the 17th May”.
He went on: “Not only can this be done safely with widespread testing, but it would also unlock much-needed revenues from business and leisure travellers keen to see family they haven’t seen for a year.
“Better digital technology would certainly enable more seamless travel through our borders and I’d urge the Government to invest in this more quickly so as to avoid airport queues in future.”
A Government spokesperson said: “We introduced robust border controls to stop coronavirus variants in their tracks and every essential check we’ve introduced for arrivals has strengthened our defences against new mutations.
“As the UK unlocks domestically and with many British families spread far and wide, we understand that people may need to travel abroad for all sorts of reasons. But we can only permit it if it is done safely, which is why the Global Travel Taskforce has produced the Traffic Light system allowing us to manage the risk from imported cases by varying restrictions depending on the risk of travel from a specific location.”