Travel held back after government ‘too lax’ on arrivals in 2020

The travel industry is paying a price for the government being “too lax” about international arrivals in the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic.

That is according to Conservative MP Huw Merriman, chair of the transport select committee of MPs and consistent critic of government policy on travel.

Merriman accused the government of being “unnecessarily cautious” and told Travel Weekly: “I wonder whether some of it is an overreaction to policy in the early months of 2020 when the government was perhaps too lax.

“The public felt there was a free for all when it came to international travel [last year]. We had all the restrictions yet we didn’t stop international arrivals coming in. There was no quarantine, there was no testing.

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“As a result, the government has been driven by public opinion to be overly cautious. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other.”

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Merriman argued: “We’ve lagged behind other countries when it comes to travel and there has been a huge cost to the travel sector – 5,000 jobs per month lost since last March.

“We’ve been quick out of the blocks in our vaccine rollout but yet again we’re lagging behind Europe in easing restrictions.”

The transport select committee chairman has written to both the prime minister and home secretary Priti Patel to demand answers to a series of questions

He said: “We want to know what is going on.

“The global travel taskforce trumpeted that it would give the industry and public more time when a country was going to move from green to amber. But we had no time at all when Portugal moved. So what happened to the green watch list?

“Why did Portugal move to amber when it doesn’t appear that was the advice? Why did Malta not move to green when the evidence suggested it could?

“Amber countries are moderate risk yet there is a recommendation that UK residents don’t travel. How long is that going to last?

“I’m asking ‘What is the milestone that allows us to get back to some form of normality?’ When all people aged 50 and older and the clinically vulnerable have been offered vaccinations, would that allow us to ease restrictions?

“I’ve also asked about sector-specific support. The sector doesn’t want subsidies. It just wants to be able to do business. But there has to come a point where there is a sector-specific support package.

“And we need to keep furlough running until such time as the government gives a green light for travel. But my real hope is that the government eases the restrictions.”

Merriman added: “I’m concerned about the bandwidth of Border Force and the inability to process people quickly.

“It encourages the government not to open up for fear we can’t cope, and queues and people from red and green zones mixing deters people from travel.”

Merriman welcomed the industry day of action on June 23 and said: “I hope people enjoy the lobby. What has the world come to when people are embarrassed to talk about wanting to go on holiday?”

He insisted: “My job as a politician is to scrutinise the government and to try to get transparency.”

But he added: “It’s important we talk positively now about why it’s safe to ease restrictions on international travel – with less moaning and more positivity that now is the time to ease restrictions.”

More: Government under ‘intense pressure’ over international travel

MP at Day of Action insists government not penalising outbound travel

Government ‘owes it to travel’ to support the sector

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