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Comment: Traffic light additions are too little, too late

Government must have an agenda for its chaotic changes, argues Aito chairman Chris Rowles

Tuesday’s (leaked) news of the scrapping of the amber watchlist probably made the travel industry breathe a collective sigh of relief.

But despite that, and last night’s additions to the green list, it really is too little, too late for the travel industry – so much damage has already been done by our government, whether by design, incompetence or for a secret, unstated agenda.

Decisions have certainly not been based on rationale, following the data or indeed even an abundance of caution. The government’s traffic light system, with known review points (originally welcomed by our industry) has been abused from the start.

The original list of 12 counties (most of which were unreachable) included, for two weeks, Portugal – which then moved to amber, with no green watchlist introduced until later. The Nepalese variant that was given as the reason for that has barely been heard of before or since.

Customers rushed back from Portugal, and cancellations flooded in. If this could happen to a country with one of the lowest rates in Europe, then where was safe?

For a few short days we were reassured, when the government finally recognised that double vaccinations made quarantine unnecessary from amber counties – finally it seemed like we were getting somewhere.

France remained on the amber list at the next review – but only for two days – but then a new ‘amber plus’ came out of the blue – based on a variant that has been around (including in the UK) since early last year. And the Beta variant hardly exists in mainland France, which the government finally acknowledged in its update last night.

When France was added to ‘amber plus’, chaos ensued as customers cancelled. Those stuck in France (myself included) had no window of opportunity to return. Jittery customers gave up – the government was proving without doubt that rules could, and would, be changed without rhyme or reason. Oh, and if it was out of ‘an abundance of caution’, why were all lorry drivers still able to come into Dover from Calais without even a rapid test?

Having for months followed the public data on Covid both in the UK and Europe (where infections were consistently a fraction of the UK’s), I gave up trying to predict what might happen next.

There is no rationale – which is probably why the government refuses to make public the data on which they base their decisions.

The sole explanation that makes sense is that the traffic lights are not about the pandemic – they are being used as diplomatic levers in some unknown post-Brexit spat with Europe.

If you think I’m paranoid, then there was a new development on Monday.

Not in terms of the traffic lights, but without warning Foreign Office (FCDO) travel advice for Italy changed to advise against all non-essential travel – due to the coronavirus situation in the country (which has less than 25% of the number of cases in the UK).

Bizarrely, the FCDO states that there can be issues travelling around Italy if areas are designated nationally as amber or red – but then says there are currently no such regions in Italy.

If again it’s an ‘abundance of caution’ then consider the fact that, since Monday, being on our amber list, any fully-jabbed Italian can enter the UK without quarantine. It is just us UK nationals that are being told not to travel. Is this a change in government tactics now the traffic lights have come under so much scrutiny?

If, as I suggest, we are the collateral damage of diplomatic levers used at the government’s whim, then at least have the decency to provide us with specific support so we can live to fight another day.

If the government is serious about its latest announcement on the traffic light lists, it should give us some certainty and commit to keeping the curent green countries green until the end of October.

Give us, and our customers, some certainty. It’s so late in the day that this is the very last chance before we see the sun setting on travel; so little time is left to recover some crumbs from this summer.

Please, Boris, just prove me (and my paranoia) wrong.

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