Industry leaders have hit back after a cross-party group of politicians called for an extension of international travel curbs to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus called on ministers to discourage all but essential overseas travel and introduce stronger protections against the virus at UK borders.
The group of more than 60 MPs and peers urged the government to maintain curbs on international leisure travel beyond May 17, to prevent new variants entering the UK and reduce the risk of a “deadly third wave” and further lockdowns.
This policy should be reviewed on a quarterly basis, and the government must provide “adequate financial support” to businesses in the travel industry in the meantime.
Efforts must be made to reduce the risk of infection at airports and ensure passengers arriving from green, amber and red list countries are kept separate.
These include improving ventilation and creating more space for social distancing at arrival halls and verifying travel documents pre-departure where possible to reduce airport queues.
The UK should drive the development of international standards for Covid test and vaccination certificates to help border staff spot fake documents.
The group’s chair, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, said: “It is staggering that the government is even contemplating encouraging overseas holidays when airports are already struggling to keep the virus and new variants at bay.
“Urgent measures are needed to better detect fake Covid test certificates, reduce overcrowding in arrival halls and separate out those arriving from red and amber list countries. The country’s biosecurity cannot rely on border staff spotting a spelling error.”
The report, published on Monday, came as Boris Johnson said he did not want to see an “influx of disease” as and when international travel resumes.
The prime minister said: “We do want to do some opening up on 17 May but I don’t think that the people of this country want to see an influx of disease from anywhere else.
“I certainly don’t, and we have got to be very, very tough, and we have got to be as cautious as we can, whilst we continue to open up.”
Asked if people should be planning foreign holidays, he added: “We will be saying more as soon as we can.
“I think that there will be some openings up on the 17th, but we have got to be cautious and we have got to be sensible and we have got to make sure that we don’t see the virus coming back in.”
However, Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade described APPG the report as “partial and one-sided” as it ignored the pace of vaccinations and cheap rapid testing in reopening international travel while restricting risk.
He added: “Nobody is saying every country in the world will be opned up from 17 May.
“Where there are genuine concerns around variants, restrictions should remain in place. But to just say we should effectively close the island and kick the travel can down the road for months on end is neither evidence-led not based on the latest science.”
Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said agreed and tweeted: “Such a one dimensional view on the reopening of international travel. 14mths after it has effectively been shut down.”
In another tweet, she said: “Across UK international travel is not non-essential to the 1m people employed in the industry as well as our city centres & business. As we ease further restrictions across hospitality & other settings, international travel cannot be used for political point scoring.”
Latin American Travel Association chief executive Danny Callaghan said: “It is extremely disappointing but, sadly, not surprising, to see that the APPG for Coronavirus is suggesting that the government should do everything it can do to discourage foreign travel for the rest of the year without also recognising that there are sectors that would require substantial financial support in that instance.
“This blatant refusal to recognise the economics of the pandemic in search of an unachievable zero-Covid strategy is something that just demonstrates how out of touch with reality some parliamentarians are. Their statement has no factual basis, given the current science on testing and vaccinations, and and instead is a baseless opinion that undermines the huge amount of work going on to restart our economy and safely resume travel.
“Fortunately there are plenty of MPs who don’t want to see wholesale business failures in the travel, tourism, hospitality and aviation sectors and who do recognise the importance of our sectors to aspirations of a Global Britain, and I thank them wholeheartedly for that.”
Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “We have been waiting for months for the government to set out a proper strategic plan to support our travel trade in this pandemic and heard nothing.
“Ministers must now provide much needed clarity about what travel will be allowed later this month. After everything they have been through millions of people around our country want to know whether they should be taking holidays abroad this summer – and how they can do so safely.
“So far ministerial mixed messaging has cost far too many jobs within our travel industry. The Tories have had a tin ear when it comes to travel, with workers and businesses suffering. They now need to provide both hope and clarity.
“The only way to do that is to set out a foolproof set of instructions for the public about what will and won’t be possible as we head towards summer. That should not be too much to ask for any competent government.”
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, claimed the “best financial support the government can now offer the travel sector is to open up overseas travel as planned from 17 May”.
He added: “Not only can this be done safely with widespread testing, but it would also unlock much-needed revenues from business and leisure travellers keen to see family they haven’t seen for a year.
“Better digital technology would certainly enable more seamless travel through our borders and I’d urge the government to invest in this more quickly so as to avoid airport queues in future.”
Weekend reports suggested the green list of ‘safe’ destinations without the need to quarantine on return will be reviewed every three weeks under the traffic light system for overseas travel.
A new slogan – ‘Travel Safely, Plan Ahead’ – is expected to replace the current ‘minimise travel’ guidance with an announcement on which countries will be green, amber or red likely by the end of the week.
Just a handful on countries will be on the initial green list, with more possibly announced before the end of the month.
The developments came as the European Union revealed plans to allow Britons who have had both Covid vaccinations to travel freely to Europe this summer without any testing or quarantine requirements.
The plan, to be agreed by the end of the month, is to open up tourism by allowing people from the UK, US, Israel and other countries with high vaccination rates to travel to Europe in time for the summer season in June.