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Challenges exist over resuming international travel, minister admits

Challenges exist around the resumption of international travel from the UK, culture secretary Oliver Dowden has admitted.

Concerns surround rising Covid infection rates around Europe but “all options” are under consideration as part of the government’s Global Travel Taskforce review.

He acknowledged that a traffic light system to enable international travel, allowing shorter quarantine periods with increased testing, was being looked at.

A Whitehall official familiar with discussions between the Department for Transport and the travel industry told the Sunday Times: “There will be a system of travel corridors to green-list countries with good vaccination rates.”

The comments came as British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle warned: “We cannot delay the planning process that needs to get under way to restart complex airline operations. If we do, we risk missing the entire summer, a near-fatal blow to the industry.”

Writing in the Mail on Sunday, the airline boss said: “We support the introduction of a system that sets out where we can travel safely, and which rules apply.

“Once that is in place, people who are vaccinated should be free to fly, just as they were in 2019, before the pandemic.

“People who are not vaccinated should be free to travel too – provided they have proof of a recent negative test result.”

The “catastrophic impact” of a missed summer of overseas travel is outlined in a new report commissioned by the UK aviation sector.

Under the traffic light proposal, countries are expected to be divided depending on the risk of new variants of Covid-19 and the success of the overseas nation’s vaccine rollout, according to reports.

People returning from ‘green’ countries would only need a rapid result lateral flow test.

Those from amber countries would require a negative result from a PCR test before travel, a lateral flow test on arrival and some for of quarantine.

Mandatory hotel quarantines would be needed for arrivals from ‘red list’ countries.

The taskforce is due to set out a framework for resuming international travel next week as part of Boris Johnson’s roadmap for relaxing Covid restrictions which includes no overseas trips unless for essential reasons until at least May 17.

Dowden told Sky News: “We consider all options as part of the travel taskforce.

“You would expect when government formulates policy, the way we do this is we look at all the different options, we weigh them up, we come to a position and then when we come to that position, we publish that position and that’s the position that we’ll be setting out at the beginning of next month.”

He added: “Clearly there are challenges around international travel, you only have to look across the continent and see the rising case rates in many of our nearest neighbours.

“It has been in the past the case that those rising infection rates have seen their way through to the UK; we’re hopeful that won’t happen this time round because of our progress with the vaccine and so on, but we do need to be cautious about that.

“That is why we have got this review; we’re looking at it carefully and you will get the results of that at the beginning of next month.”

Separately, Dowden said that the intention of the travel taskforce is to open up travel safely.

Boris Johnson insisted at the weekend that the roadmap for easing England’s coronavirus lockdown is still on track, even as a third wave of infections hits Europe.

Speaking to the Conservatives’ virtual spring forum, he said: “As things stand, I can see absolutely nothing in the data to dissuade me from continuing along our roadmap to freedom, unlocking our economy and getting back to the life we love.”

But Johnson said it was as yet unclear what impact a rising wave of infections on the continent might have on the UK, with “bitter experience” showing it could take three weeks to show up here.

He added: “The question is – is it going to be, this time, as bad it has been in the past? Or have we sufficiently mitigated, muffled, blunted impact by the vaccine rollout?

“That’s a question we still don’t really know the answer to.”

Paul Charles, chief executive of PR consultancy the PC Agency, said: “There will be some countries that can be safely accessed from 17th May, especially when combined with the planned traffic lights system.”

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