Travel looks likely to be one of the last sectors to open up in the prime minister’s ‘cautious’ roadmap out of Covid-19 lockdown for England.
The industry has been lobbying for a “a route out of the crisis”, with details on testing and vaccine certification to open up holidays for this summer.
Boris Johnson is expected to announce several stages for the easing of lockdown, with gaps of several weeks between each, starting with the reopening of schools on March 8, say reports.
He will reveal the plan on Monday (February 22) in the House of Commons at 3.30pm and lead a Downing Street news conference at 7pm.
By March 29, outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households will be allowed followed by the reopening of non-essential retail and hospitality in the coming months.
The BBC said that March 29 is also understood to be the date from which people will once again be able to travel out of their areas, although guidance will likely still recommend staying local, and overnight stays will not be permitted.
Sky News reported there will be a four-stage easing of rules, adding: “At the end of the fourth step, England will be much closer to being back to normal with some important caveats, albeit with social distancing still in place and uncertainty over foreign travel.”
The Guardian reported: “The health secretary, Matt Hancock, has said he is optimistic about summer holidays being permitted in the UK, so June could see restrictions lifted on the tourism sector. Foreign holidays are likely to be highly dependent on the actions of other governments and the progress of international vaccination – as well as a desire by ministers to strictly limit the ability of new variants to enter the country.”
Easter staycations unlikely
The cautious pace also means that staycations in self-catering accommodation will be unlikely for Easter in England.
The Times reported: “There is less good news for people hoping to get away for an Easter break. Downing Street said there was likely to be a significant gap before the next stage of lockdown easing and ruled out allowing self-catering accommodation to open in time for the holidays.”
The BBC reported that Johnson said: “We will be cautious about this approach so that we do not undo the progress we have achieved so far.”
However, the rapid pace of the vaccination programme gave some hope for a resumption of summer holidays overseas.
The Telegraph reported: “Every person aged over 18 will have been offered a coronavirus vaccination by the end of July, Boris Johnson announced on Saturday night, raising hopes of foreign holidays and the return of outdoor events by August.”
The new targets would mean that 32 million people, accounting for 98% of Covid-19 deaths, will have received some level of protection against the disease by the end of April.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reported that Jet2 has asked its pilots to avoid booking time off this summer “in a sign that travel firms expect Britons to be able to take foreign breaks in sunshine spots such as Greece after lockdown ends”.
Health secretary Matt Hancock – speaking to Andrew Marr on the BBC on Sunday – said enhanced contact tracing and stricter border controls were reducing the cases of overseas Covid variants in the UK.
When asked about booking holidays, however, he said: “The prime minister will be setting out more details on all those things in the roadmap.
“We will review with vigilance and look at the data as we go through this.”
However, Alan Bowen, advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, said he doubts that travel will even be mentioned on Monday, and setting dates three months ahead is “impossible”.
“What is killing bookings right now is the cost of three tests to return home and the risk that whilst on holiday a destination moves into the red list and requires a compulsory hotel quarantine,” he said.
Travel ‘dependent on destination countries’
“Opening travel again is dependent on destination countries getting their vaccination regimes in order and so far, we are way ahead in that regards.
“The decision to allow travel simply isn’t entirely in our hands, politics is the art of the possible, and I doubt a date set now would be acceptable.
“We shall have to wait and see but I fear expectations may be too high. We are more likely to hear when schools are reopening and when we can get our hair cut than anything about travel and holidays.”
The BBC highlighted how the devolved nations have the power to set their own restrictions and have been moving at different speeds.
“In Scotland, the government hopes to publish a route out of lockdown next week, but first minister Nicola Sturgeon has urged people not to book Easter holidays,” said the BBC.
In Wales, it is hoped the ‘stay-at-home’ requirement could end within three weeks, but Northern Ireland’s health minister has played down the prospect of restrictions being eased in time for Easter, added the BBC report.
Tony Blair “co-ordinating” industry efforts
Elsewhere, former prime minister Tony Blair has been reportedly “co-ordinating” travel industry efforts to ensure vaccine passports for travel are included in Johnson’s roadmap.
Ben Kentish, LBC’s Westminster correspondent, said Blair “has been working with bosses of the likes of BA, Heathrow and Saga” and promised to use his contacts in government “to try to make sure this happens”.
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