Critics Slam ‘Tinkering in Overly Restrictive Rules’ Amid Reports UK May Toughen Travel Guidelines
© REUTERS / HANNAH MCKAYArriving passengers queue at UK Border Control at the Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London
© REUTERS / HANNAH MCKAY
A “traffic-light” system in the UK that's been in place since May grades destinations as red, amber or green according to the level of risk of travellers reimporting COVID-19 infections. Last week ministers suggested creating a new “amber watch list” of countries that are at risk of swiftly moving to the red list.
The UK government is mulling plans to add new coronavirus-induced travel alerts, that would warn holidaymakers against visiting some destinations that are on the cusp of being “red-listed”, reported The Times.
The proposed plans have been slammed by Tory rebels and representatives of the tourism and hospitality sector as running the risk of “hobbling” Britain's economy.
Government ministers last week purportedly suggested creating a new “amber watch list” of countries. In accordance with these plans, while an amber watch list would not carry quarantine restrictions, travellers would be warned their destination is “on the brink” of being delegated to the red list. Destinations such as Spain and Italy have been cited as likely candidates.
If this change in status occurs, travellers would face the choice of rushing home before the set deadline or paying to quarantine in a Government-approved hotel upon their return. Under current rules, double-vaccinated travellers can return from amber-list countries without quarantining.
© REUTERS / POOLBritain's PM Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak visit school in London
Britain's PM Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak visit school in London
© REUTERS / POOL
Rishi Sunak is said to have emphasised that the country's successful vaccination programme should merit an easing of restrictions, which he branded as “draconian”, and "out of step with our international competitors" in other EU countries.
© REUTERS / Toby MelvilleA public health campaign message is displayed on an arrivals information board at Heathrow Airport, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, July 29, 2020
A public health campaign message is displayed on an arrivals information board at Heathrow Airport, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, July 29, 2020
© REUTERS / Toby Melville
Treasury sources, however, were cited by the outlet as claiming the Chancellor's letter was written before a decision taken last week to lift quarantine restrictions for double-jabbed tourists arriving from the US and Europe. The move comes into force today.
‘Overly Restrictive Rules’
The proposals for an “amber watch list” have ostensibly triggered huge backlash amid Tory backbenchers, according to Whitehall sources quoted by the Daily Mail.
“We'll have to wait and see what the data looks like later this week. But there will have to be a very strong case to create another category at this stage. There is a lot of opposition to anything that causes more confusion and uncertainty right now,” the sources were quoted by the outlet as saying.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith insisted that the quarantine rule in place when people leave for a holiday should be adhered to, even if the status of the destination alters during the family’s trip.
“We cannot mess families around like this. If you have gone away on the basis that the country is okay and you have had your two vaccines then you should not have to self-isolate when you get back,” said the former Tory leader.
Regarding reports of the letter penned by the Chancellor to the Prime Minister, he added: “I am glad the Chancellor is getting involved because we have to start thinking about the economic damage we are causing by overly restrictive and constantly changing rules. We need to be trusting our vaccines and opening up, not constantly tinkering in a way that undermines confidence.”
Proposals for adding an “amber watch list” were slammed as “madness” by another Tory source.
“It is a stupid idea which will cause bookings to collapse. Who in their right mind would go on holiday having been warned they may have to quarantine at huge expense when they get back?” the source was cited as saying.
© REUTERS / TOBY MELVILLETravellers pass a sign for a COVID-19 test centre at Heathrow Airport, London, Britain, February 13, 2021.
Travellers pass a sign for a COVID-19 test centre at Heathrow Airport, London, Britain, February 13, 2021.
© REUTERS / TOBY MELVILLE
Huw Merriman, the Tory chairman of the Commons transport committee, warned that the proposal for an amber watch list was a “giant red flag” that could result in a flurry of travel cancellations.
“The government has used the vaccine dividend to make some positive strides in the last few weeks, making it easier for those travelling in and out of the UK. This is not the time to be adding further complexity, uncertainty and anxiety to an already beleaguered sector,” the outlet cited him as saying.
Similar sentiments have been voiced by a group of UK airline chiefs, who are cited as having written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, calling for the government to reduce the "still onerous and increasingly disproportionate burden of testing on travellers".
They also urged that more countries be added to the government's green list. Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, was cited as saying:
“The EU must be looking at us in incredulity. We have totally squandered the vaccine dividend we had built up. No wonder passengers have no idea whether they're coming or going. Green is the only way forward for the industry — this is the last chance saloon now for saving the summer.”
In response to the reports, a Department for Transport spokesperson was cited by Sky News as saying:
“We have committed to reviewing travel lists every three weeks and any decisions are taken by ministers based on the latest risk assessment from the JBC. We continue to work with the travel industry and private testing providers to further reduce testing costs."
Proposals for an “amber watch list” emerged as health officials voice concerns about the rise of the “Beta” virus variant in countries such as Spain, believed to be more resistant to the AstraZeneca jab than the Delta variant, which is currently dominant in the UK. The Joint Biosecurity Centre, which analyses coronavirus data, is due to present ministers with its latest assessment of the “international threat”.