Travel industry ‘pushing at open door’ on easing of restrictions

Industry sources close to talks with government say they are “pushing at an open door” in terms of lobbying for the easing of restrictions on international travel.

Sector leaders greeted Monday’s announcement of the removal of all tests for fully vaccinated travellers as “a landmark day” and “a step change” for the recovery.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps went further than expected in stripping back restrictions, although his retention of the Passenger Locator Form (PLF) dismayed many and Iata director general Willie Walsh slammed the government for “withdrawing these measures on February 11 when it could have withdrawn them now”.

More:Industry groups hit out at EU ‘patchwork’ of restrictions

Testing will be scrapped for fully vaccinated arrivals in time for half-term, children aged 12-15 will be able to prove they’re vaccinated, and the unvaccinated will no longer need to self-isolate and take a second PCR test. Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have since followed suit.

Shapps also pledged to simplify the PLF, replace hotel quarantine for red list arrivals “with measures including home isolation” and develop “a toolbox” for dealing with future variants, promised next month.

He justified keeping the PLF saying: “It’s our only way of distinguishing between those vaccinated and unvaccinated. It’s there for a critical reason.”

A leading airline source explained: “Removing the PLF would cause new complications. How would airlines or Border Force know who is vaccinated? We’d be back to manual checks. The PLF is clunky but we’re on a road to making it as effective as possible. We have to be realistic.”

A second aviation source insisted: “We don’t need a 15-page PLF. They say they’ll simplify it but seeing is believing.”

However, the source agreed: “This is a big step forward – much better than hoped. The big thing now is we’re out of step with Europe.

“The first problem is we’re behind on vaccinating 12-15-year-olds and some countries are starting to vaccinate 5-11-year-olds. That is going to be a problem.

“The second problem is the validity of vaccines [and certificates]. The UK is not setting a deadline or requiring boosters [to travel]. But it will at some point. We’re in a good position and the boosters have no expiry date yet. But the EU will probably set the standard [on validity] and we’ll end up aligning.”

Shapps noted: “For now, we’ll maintain our current definition of fully vaccinated. [But] my opposite numbers around the world have made clear that, regardless of what we do, they’re very likely to require booster jabs this summer.”

Europe’s leading travel industry associations warned on Tuesday of “diverging rules” on the validity of vaccination certificates across the EU, with differing validities of nine, seven and even three months emerging.

However, the airline source argued: “It’s great the government didn’t jump in on vaccine validity because any changes on that feed through on everything. This needs more thought.

“Now the big question is what happens when, not if, there is another variant. Shapps said it would take something worse than Omicron to put measures in place and that is promising. We feel we’re pushing at an open door – it has not felt like that for a long time.”

But travellers should be reminded these changes only apply on return to the UK, not in destinations where restrictions continue to vary and testing is often required.

Analysis: Travel rules relaxation shaped by industry

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