A universally recognised vaccine certification has been discussed by G7 transport ministers as industry chiefs exerted fresh pressure on government to abandon its “illogical stance” on testing.
UK transport secretary Grant Shapps led a meeting of transport ministers on Wednesday to discuss plans for the safe restart of international travel.
The virtual meeting involved the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the European Commission.
Shapps said: “We all know how vital international travel is, boosting businesses, supporting economies, bringing people together, so the sooner we can safely restart international travel to all countries around the world the better.
“That’s why I brought together my counterparts from the G7 countries and the European Commission to discuss global standards, factors crucial to a safe and sustainable restart of international travel.
“Form how best to share scientific data at a global level to what could form a universally recognised certification of vaccination.
“We’re committed to getting international travel back up and running as soon as is safe as possible and with today’s work, developing global co-operation for our shared aims we can ensure that when travel opens again it stays that way.”
His comments came as the chief executives of British Airways, Heathrow, easyJet, Manchester Airport Group and Jet2 argued the “over-abundance of caution” by the government does not align with other European countries and threatens millions of Britons’ holiday plans.
They claimed it is illogical to require fully vaccinated British holidaymakers to pay £60 per person to take a PCR test when returning from a ‘safe’ green list country judged by the UK to be low risk, with minimal Covid infections or variants.
Even the EU – “not known for rash decisions when it comes to vaccines and the precautionary principle” – is allowing holidaymakers with proof of vaccination to sidestep tests and quarantine, they added in a joint article for The Telegraph.
“Instead of taking advantage of the success of the vaccine programme, the government risks closing the UK off from the rest of the world,” they warned.
“Travel even from green countries will still require arrivals into the UK to take a ‘gold-standard’ PCR test … a huge barrier to travel for most people and despite assurances from the government that tests would be affordable.”
The bosses – John Holland Kaye of Heathrow, Sean Doyle of BA, Johan Lundgren of easyJet, Steve Heapy of Jet2 and Charlie Cornish of MAG – said the “abundance of caution” over the reopening on May 17 will “leave the country stuck on the runway”.
They said: “A study by Public Health England (PHE) has shown that even just one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine reduces household transmission by up to half, on top of cutting significantly the risk of infection and protecting from serious illness.
“However, unlike the EU position, having both doses of a vaccine – more than 15 million people in the UK fall into this category – will make no difference to your requirements to test and even quarantine on return to the UK, an illogical stance and one that needs to be addressed quickly.
“Make no mistake, permitting quarantine-free travel to only a handful of countries or tiny islands and few, if any, of the UK main overseas markets would be a restart in name only,” they wrote.
“Given the improving health picture, availability of rapid tests and the role of vaccines, the scope for safely designating a country ‘green’ is much higher and we believe that the number of countries on the green list can and should be high at restart.”
Addressing high PCR test costs, they added: “Despite having levers it can pull, the government has not yet made good on its promise to bring prices down and more work must be done urgently, with removing the burden of VAT on what is a health test a good place to start.
“Alongside cost, indications are that the initial list of ‘green’ countries will be limited from May 17th, rather than the more comprehensive list that the science and data would allow for.
“The government has never revealed any of its analysis about the risk it claims is posed by international travel, and must be open and transparent about explaining how it justifies its travel restrictions.
“The often-cited risk of variants entering the UK is real and requires vigilance. However, no one is saying that come May 17, air travel will be a free-for-all and we must keep in mind that for much of the rest of the world, the main variant of concern is our own, home-grown Kent variety.
“Under the traffic light system, travel will and should remain highly restricted from countries where Covid levels are very high, or variants pose a real risk.
“Amber countries will again face a level of additional checks and precautions.
“However, where Covid levels are low, it is no riskier to travel abroad than it is to travel from London to Birmingham or Belfast, or anywhere else in the UK.
“The announcement that international travel can commence will be a genuine turning point and hopefully the start of a sustained recovery towards something more like normal.
“Our message to the government is do not waste an opportunity afforded to us by the vaccine rollout to get Britain flying again.”
Meanwhile, Iata welcomed an agreement by G20 tourism ministers to support the restoration of travel.
The airline trade body’s director general Willie Walsh said: “The G20 has the right focus and agenda to restart travel and tourism. The combination of vaccinations and testing are the drivers to make travel broadly and safely accessible.
“Moreover, prime minister Draghi’s promise that Italy is ready to welcome back the world and encouragement to book holidays should be an inspiration to other world leaders.
“It captures the urgency that is needed to move forward quickly and safely in restoring the freedom to travel.”
He added: “The G20’s call for a combined effort of industry and governments to share information moves us towards the risk management framework that is needed for a restart.
“No industry knows better that safety is paramount than aviation.
“Effective risk-management – based on evidence, data and facts -underpins everything airlines do, and it is a core aviation competency that can help governments safely reopen borders.
“Over a year into the crisis, and with six months of experience with vaccines, data exists to support the targeted measures that the G20 is aiming for. Using data to guide restart plans should gain impetus from the G20 action plan.”