Foreign holidays ‘should be discouraged’ all summer to fight Covid variants, MPs tell ministers

The government should maintain a ban on international travel in place through the summer, a cross-party group of MPs and peers has urged.

Non-essential travel abroad has been illegal for the past four months. The government has indicated that overseas holidays can resume, from England at least, on 17 May. Ministers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have yet to decide on reopening international travel.

But the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus has warned of “a deadly third wave and further lockdowns” if the prohibition on going abroad is eased.

It says the travel ban should continue with a review every three months, which would effectively rule out holidays until late August at the earliest.

Layla Moran MP, who is chair of the group as well as the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesperson, said: “It is staggering that the government is even contemplating encouraging overseas holidays when airports are already struggling to keep the virus and new variants at bay.”

The report warns the country’s airports have become “breeding grounds” for the virus because of overcrowding. Heathrow airport bosses have warned that queuing times at the UK’s main port of entry can extend to six hours.

The parliamentarians, comprising more than 60 MPs and peers, also say fake Covid test certificates are rife. Lucy Moreton of the Immigration Services Union told a hearing that border staff detect around 100 fake Covid test certificates a day – mainly by spotting spelling errors.

Professor Deenan Pillay from University College London warned that the failure to separate arrivals from amber and red countries “made a nonsense of things”.

At a hearing on 20 April, none of the expert witnesses called by the group said they would be prepared to travel abroad in the near future.

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP and vice-chair of the group, said: “Ministers are showing a shocking level of complacency about the risks posed by overseas travel.

“We know from past experience that tourism hotspots risk becoming Covid hotspots, with people mixing from all over the world.

The group says the government should provide “adequate financial support” to the travel industry. In the first three months of 2021, Heathrow airport lost £329m, more than £2,500 per minute.

But the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Future of Aviation said it was “essential that the government deliver on the commitment to safely reopen travel on 17 May”.

Henry Smith, a Conservative MP, said: “Any failure to do so would likely be the final damaging blow to the businesses, communities and employees who rely on our vibrant aviation sector.”

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, called the report “partial and one-sided,” saying it ignored the place of vaccination and cheap, rapid testing in reopening travel while limiting risk.

“Nobody is saying every country in the world will be opened up from 17 May,” he said. 

“Where there are genuine concerns around variants, restrictions should remain in place. But to just say we should effectively close the island and kick the travel can down the road for months on end is neither evidence-led nor based on the latest science.”

The report is published at the start of a week in which the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, is expected to assign foreign countries into red, amber and green categories.

Nations from which there is deemed to be a high risk of importation of coronavirus – especially “variants of concern” – will be classed as red or amber, both requiring quarantine.

Only people coming in from green list countries escape self-isolation, though they must take pre-departure and post-arrival tests at a cost of upwards of £100.

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