Special Report: Government to pursue all 14 taskforce proposals

Testing, transit, tour bubbles and cruise among ideas to be developed. Ian Taylor reports

The government is expected to move forward on all the Global Travel Taskforce recommendations, released last week.

The ‘test to release’ scheme in England, which will allow arrivals to take a Covid test after five days’ self‑isolation from December 15, is just one of 14 recommendations.

Others include pre-departure testing, a short-stay quarantine exemption for international business travellers and ‘tour bubbles’ for inbound tour groups – all proposals put forward by sections of the industry.

Pre-departure testing could reopen markets currently closed, but would need to be agreed with other governments, with agreements piloted on certain routes such as to the Canary Islands or New York.

The report pledges the government to “work with industry and clinicians to study the feasibility” of an exemption for short business trips which would not extend to “any non-business-related activity”.

It suggests ‘tour bubbles’ could allow inbound tour groups to arrive, stay together and use private transport to visit “Covid-19 secure venues”.

An aviation source said: “For a proposal to get in the report, we take it to be serious.” However, the report notes these proposals “need further consideration with clinicians [and] health experts”.

It also warns: “We must accept a risk that UK and foreign governments have to make changes to travel restrictions at short notice.

“Industry and travellers have to take responsibility to ensure they have adequate insurance and measures in place to mitigate these risks, including being prepared to stay overseas for longer than planned.”

The source said: “We need the business trip proposal fully worked up. Germany has done it with a letter from an employer indicating a traveller is on essential business. It remains to be seen whether that can get across the line.

“Inbound group bubbles could work. It’s potentially easier to administer than the business travel proposal. Groups would be the responsibility of the operator and there are a limited number of players.”

The report also commits the Department for Transport to “explore ways transit could be safely facilitated without passengers needing to self-isolate on return to the UK”. The source said: “It’s important to get transit working with travel corridors. That will become more important as we see more long-haul markets open up.”

The report promises a public health information campaign for departing and arriving passengers, a system of assurance for air travel and a campaign to publicise it.

There will be a Tourism Recovery Plan to support the inbound and domestic sectors, an overseas marketing campaign “at the appropriate time”, an Aviation Recovery Plan, and the DfT will work with the International Civil Aviation Organisation on a global framework for validating test and vaccination records.

The report lays out a phased resumption plan for cruise, but reports the restart must wait.

A Global Travel Taskforce Steering Group, details of which are unspecified, “will drive development of the proposals”.

‘Cruise needs timeline for restart’

Cruise leaders called for a timeline for resuming operations after the government’s Global Travel Taskforce reported “now is not the time” to restart cruising last week, but the report set a framework for restarting and noted the pressure to resume by next spring.

The taskforce, led by the secretaries of state for transport and health, recommended “a gradual phasing in of operations, starting with UK cruises [and] transitioning to European ports of call before a full resumption of sailings”.

It proposed a phased restart could begin “when the national alert level is at level 3 and a move to level 2 is being considered by the chief medical officer”, and noted: “The sector requires a lead time of eight to 12 weeks to prepare.”

The report acknowledged the cruise sector’s peak booking season “is between Christmas and February” and concern that if the sector is “unable to secure bookings” during this season, “business for next year will be written off”.

It also noted a “restart of seagoing cruises since August” in Germany, Italy, Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Croatia, France, Norway, Madeira and some Caribbean islands, and that cruises are due to restart in the Canary Islands and Singapore.

The report said a restart will depend on cruise operators taking responsibility for “the management and implementation of repatriation of passengers and seafarers”.

An annex to the report sets out three phases:

Phase 1: Cruises start and end in the UK. They may operate in European waters but will call only at UK ports. Passengers restricted to UK residents.

Phase 2: Cruises start and end in the UK, but calls at European ports allowed in line with Foreign Office advice and the travel corridors list.

Phase 3: Normal operations resume.

There will be a monthly review of progress, with agreement required at each stage between the Department for Transport, the Maritime & Coastguard Agency, Public Health England, the Foreign Office and the devolved administrations. “There will be the ability to roll back if required.”

However, the report states: “We must proceed cautiously and if public health advice does not support restart or moving between the stages, we will follow this advice.”

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