UK travel urges clarity from government

LONDON (AP) — Leaders from Britain’s aviation industry joined forces Wednesday to urge the British government to ensure that popular European destinations face the least onerous coronavirus travel restrictions when holidays are allowed again.

Under the government’s new traffic light system for England, travel to countries in the lowest green category could be opened up to quarantine-free travel from May 17. Arrivals would be required to take a pre-departure test as well as the gold standard PCR test on or before day two of their return to England. They would only need to quarantine if they receive a positive result.

The government has said it will categorize destinations — green, amber or red — after analyzing vaccination rates, coronavirus cases and the prevalence of variants of concern. Given the metrics being applied, countries like the United States and Israel are expected to be on the green list immediately, while much of Europe could be placed on the amber list, which would require travelers to self-isolate at home for potentially ten days on their return.

Aviation minister Robert Courts said Wednesday that the government should be able to give more details about how countries are characterized in early May so the industry — and potential holidaymakers — can start putting plans in place.

“We are giving as much notice as we can,” he said.

Lockdown restrictions are being eased across the U.K. after a stringent winter lockdown and the rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines has seen coronavirus cases — and deaths — fall sharply. However, given that previous waves of the pandemic have arguably been fueled by too-lax border policies, the government has indicated it will take a cautious approach.

With much of Europe in the midst of a surge of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions being re-imposed, there are concerns that popular European destinations, such as the beach resorts of the Costa del Sol in Spain or the Greek islands may not make the green list.

“We would like to see the green category as expansive as possible,” Chris Garton, chief solutions officer at Heathrow Airport, told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

“We understand from a health perspective it’s a proceed with caution time …. but if we err to much on the side of caution then you will have some very devastating effects on the travel sector and the aviation sector,” he added.

The aviation industry around the world has been hammered over the past year with passenger numbers down around 95% from pre-pandemic levels.

Travel to Europe will play a crucial role in the industry’s recovery so any delay in putting popular holiday destinations in the green category would spell further financial difficulties.

EasyJet Chief Executive Johan Lundgren said he “would expect almost all major European countries” to be put in the low-risk category immediately and that the airline will be able to fly 20% of its normal schedule between April and June.

Lundgren said he’s optimistic that many of easyJet’s core markets in Europe will make the cut as the rollout of vaccines picks up pace.

“I wouldn’t see a reason why you wouldn’t have the majority of the countries of Europe in there,” he said.


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