The aviation minister says vaccines are ‘the way out’ of the Covid crisis for international travel, and insisted the Department for Transport is upping efforts to see how the UK’s border restrictions can be eased.
Robert Courts was quizzed by MPs in the House of Commons as part of a debate about support for the aviation, travel and tourism sectors today.
Former PM Theresa May and other MPs criticised the government’s travel policies, saying they were too restrictive at a time when so many people had been fully inoculated.
“We now have over 50% of the population vaccinated…yet we’re more restricted on travel than we were last year,” she said. “This year, there is a vaccine; travel is not possible. I really don’t understand the stance the government is taking.”
Huw Merriman, chair of the transport select committee, said 99% of those at risk of mortality will be fully vaccinated by June 21 and called on the government for a ‘concrete milestone’ for the unlocking of international travel.
Courts commented: “We are working towards seeing what more we can do to open up travel with aid of vaccines.
“Vaccines: they are the way out and hope for the future.”
The minister cautioned against reopening international travel too quickly and defended the government’s traffic light list decisions last week, including moving Portugal from the green list to amber.
He said Portugal had been moved to amber status without going on a green ‘watchlist’ because of the need to protect public health and defended the decision not to use the ‘green watchlist’ that had been promised by the Global Travel Taskforce in April, reiterating comments from transport secretary Grant Shapps by saying government must “cautiously” balance the reopening of borders with the “managed risk of reimporting variants”.
“We must not risk having to go backwards,” said Courts. “Variants of concern still pose a risk.”
Justifying the government’s efforts to help restart international travel, Courts said the government had helped to bring down the price of PCR testing and hoped they could come down further – and highlighted that the NHS app can now demonstrate a traveller’s Covid status.
“We are working towards a future travel system that can cope with endemic Covid-19,” he said.
Courts said the government understands how difficult the pandemic is for the industry but said a tourism recovery plan and aviation strategy will be published soon, setting out commitments to both sectors.