Government non-committal on travel rules review

The government wants “to remove testing and all restrictions” on international travel, but aviation and maritime minister Robert Courts gave no hint that this could happen from January when he addressed airline leaders on Monday.

The last update to the system for international travel came in September, at which point no update was expected until 2022. Reviews of the red list, which currently has no countries on it, have continued every three weeks.

Speaking at the Airlines 2021 conference in London, Courts said: “We’ve said we’ll review the [travel] policy in January and that is what we’ll do. It would be foolish to speculate. We have to protect public health while we try to spur the aviation market on. We’ll be looking at this in January. [But] I can’t tell you what we’ll do.”

He insisted: “We want to remove testing and all restrictions, but it has to be done in a way that protects public health.”

Courts told the conference: “There has been a lot of good news for the sector. There are no red list countries. Fully vaccinated arrivals are only required to take a single rapid test. Under-18s are treated as fully vaccinated. We had the re-opening of transatlantic routes.

“International passengers are still about one third of two years ago. The scale of the challenge is clear, but it’s a challenge the government is determined to meet.”

He argued: “I would push back on any suggestion the UK is lagging. It has been a balance throughout. There were voices asking us to be more restrictive. It’s a balance to retain public confidence and protect public health. We can point to progressive but cautious steps to relax travel. The steps we’ve taken are proof of what we want to do.

“If we look at where we were a few months ago, we’re in a very different place.”

Courts promised a strategic framework for aviation “later this year” and insisted: “Let’s be clear, the government has supported aviation to the tune of £7.8 billion.”

He defended the rise in long-haul air passenger duty from 2023 through creation of a new ‘ultra’ long-haul rate, saying: “The structure is predicated on the fact that those who fly most pay most. We have a responsibility to balance aviation with our climate responsibilities. It’s no good saying we don’t.”

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