Industry sources expect major markets in the EU and US to remain open for tourism this winter despite pressure on the UK government to introduce tougher Covid restrictions amid a rise in domestic cases.
International travel’s return is gathering momentum with vaccinated arrivals to England no longer required to purchase expensive PCR tests from Monday, Wales and Scotland ready to follow suit this weekend and the US confirming similar requirements when its borders reopen on November 8.
But the roller-coaster nature of the return was evident as the government site listing cheaper test providers crashed on the opening day of registration, Wales and Scotland chose different days to fall into line on testing and the Northern Ireland executive has so far remained silent on the issue.
A leading industry source described Morocco’s flight ban as “a concern”, saying: “We’ve come so far in the past few weeks. It would be a tragedy for the industry recovery to be undermined so soon. We hope most countries only use flight bans as a last resort.”
Morocco blamed the UK’s high Covid rate but also suspended flights to and from Germany and the Netherlands. Tunisia reverted to requiring PCR tests for all arrivals from October 27 “due to worrying Covid-19 spikes in many countries”.
The UK government is under pressure from NHS chiefs to reintroduce measures such as mandatory mask wearing, with ministers acknowledging they have a ‘plan B’ to do this.
The source said: “The government needs to look at its domestic measures and now would be a good time.”
An aviation source noted: “We’ve been in this situation before. A lot of countries shut their borders to the UK at Christmas. We have to see what happens with the new Delta-plus variant in the UK. But we’re not too worried about the EU re-imposing restrictions, and the US just opened. So our key markets aren’t imposing restrictions.”
The same source denounced the lack of coordination among the devolved administrations as “really annoying”.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Tuesday that vaccinated arrivals from non-red list countries will be able to take a cheaper lateral flow test instead of a PCR test from Sunday (October 31).
The Welsh government earlier confirmed it would follow suit “reluctantly” from Sunday (October 31), with Welsh health minister Eluned Morgan saying: “We remain concerned about the UK government’s approach – the speed at which it’s opening up international travel and decisions to change the border health measures. However, it is difficult for us to adopt a different testing regime.”
The government’s online list of lateral flow test providers crashed on its first day and was down again on Saturday.
A source said: “It wasn’t ideal, but it was still possible to book with providers just more difficult to locate them. The gov.uk site is not a booking site and lot of passengers look at the links provided by airlines and airports offering discounts.”
The government was due to review its red list of countries this week meaning there could be fresh changes.