LONDON – The British government signalled it will keep restrictions on overseas travel in place for now to control a surge in coronavirus infections and the risk of new variants of the virus taking hold.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said “normal” holidays were “never going to be the case” this year, because of increasing Covid-19 cases.
His comments indicate increasing concern about a third wave of cases in Britain, despite one of the world’s most aggressive vaccination programmes.
“There are going to have to be significant trade-offs” Mr Buckland said on Sky News’ Trevor Phillips show on Sunday (June 20).
“We’ve tried to strike the right balance between the natural need in some cases for international travel, but also the imperative of making sure that we do everything we can at home to contain and prevent inadvertent spread of new variants.”
The remarks are a blow to airlines and a growing number of Members of Parliament in the ruling Conservative Party pressing for the government to loosen restrictions.
While the United States and European Union are starting to open borders for travel, Britain has rules requiring quarantine and Covid-19 testing for travellers arriving from most places.
Mr Liam Fox, the former Conservative cabinet minister in charge of trade policy, urged the government to find a way for those who have received two doses of a vaccine to travel without having to quarantine.
“The world cannot be closed down and that, sooner or later, we will have to learn to live with Covid-19 just as we have learnt to live with other viral illnesses over time,” Mr Fox wrote in a column for the Mail on Sunday newspaper.
Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office confirmed that officials are considering plans to open up international travel for passengers who have been fully inoculated. They did not give an indication when the measures could be in place.
For now, the health authorities are urging the government to move slowly in lowering restrictions, especially on foreign travel.
“The extra time to vaccinate more people, get two doses of vaccination in as many people as possible will hopefully mean that what we’re seeing with this wave won’t look the same as the previous waves that we’ve seen in this country,” Ms Susan Hopkins, the strategic response director at Public Health England, said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
While Ms Hopkins said the country is moving towards living with Covid-19 as it does with influenza and other respiratory infections, “we may need to do further lockdowns this winter” if hospitals become overwhelmed.
“We should predominantly holiday at home this summer.”
Under current rules, destinations are coded red for the highest coronavirus infection risk, amber for medium risk and green for the lowest risk. Travellers are advised against going to amber or red list countries.
People who arrive in England from destinations on the amber list must quarantine at home or in the place where they are staying for 10 days and take at least two Covid-19 tests during the period. Airlines have criticised the policy, especially after Portugal was abruptly taken off the green list earlier this month, dealing a blow to the summer travel season.
The number of flights into and out of Britain has plunged 73 per cent from 2019 levels, eliminating or putting on furlough 860,000 jobs in travel and tourism that now risk being lost, according to the British Airline Pilots Association.
“The UK aviation industry is the hardest hit in Europe,” Mr Brian Strutton, general secretary of the industry group, said in a statement on Sunday. “Hapless ministers give all the appearance of deliberately attacking aviation and tormenting the public with their mixed messages over summer holidays.”
Mr Buckland told Sky News “we are doing our very best to maintain that balance with regular reviews of the regulations to allow the maximum flexibility”.