Ministers were on Monday urged to end “roulette” foreign travel rules that force families to “gamble” thousands of pounds on holidays which they may have to cancel.
However, a minister defended bringing in the new category in the Government’s foreign travel “traffic light system”, saying that it would give people vital information about the pandemic’s “direction” in various countries, so that they could make “common sense” decisions about summer breaks.
Boris Johnson and senior ministers are expected to review the “traffic light” lists on Thursday, although this announcement could be brought forward.
But the Prime Minister was facing a growing revolt over the travel rules which have developed to include “green watch”, “amber plus” and possibly now “amber watch” categories, with speculation that Spain and even Italy could soon be placed on the latter, which would mean they could be put on the red list at short notice.
Red list countries require hotel quarantine on return to the UK, at a cost of £1,750 for solo travellers. Conservative MP Henry Smith, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation, told Talk Radio: “The moment there is this uncertainly that you might go to Spain but suddenly it might turn into a red list country and you have to rush back or have to quarantine at vast expense in a hotel... you feel like you are sitting at the roulette table, taking a massive gamble.”
Most people would “quite understandably” not want to take such a risk and so would not press ahead with such a break abroad, he added.
Huw Merriman MP, Conservative chairman of the Commons transport committee, said: “An amber watch list will be viewed as a massive red flag which is likely to cause bookings to those countries on that watch list to collapse. We don’t need any more uncertainty, complexity or anxiety for passengers or this beleaguered sector. It just needs clarity.”
But digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman, doing the media round for the Government this morning, rejected claims that the pandemic travel guidelines, aimed at stopping new variants from entering England, were complicated. “Saying to people if a country is on a watch list there is a risk that it could, for instance, move from green to amber or amber to red seems to me to be providing people with really important information when they’re making significant financial decisions,” he told Sky News.
“The point of the watch list is to try to give people a sense of the direction of travel that a country is going in... People do have to make common sense judgments and that may involve taking into consideration the fact that a country’s rates may indeed be getting worse.”
However, Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds called on the Government to be “open and transparent” over its travel guidelines by publishing more data behind its decisions.
Asked if an “amber watch” list should be introduced, she told Times Radio: “Well, no, we don’t want to see additional confusion and chaos here.”
Britain’s former ambassador to Paris, Lord Ricketts, criticised the decision to put France on a special “amber plus” list, meaning that people have to quarantine on their return to the UK. He added it was “undermining trust and so damaging the wider UK-French relationship — as well as causing unnecessary hardship for thousands of families”.
In other developments:
A study found no traces of coronavirus in tests at four major railway stations, including Euston, and on intercity train services, Network Rail said. The places passengers regularly touch such as escalator handles, ticket machines and benches were swabbed, while hour-long air samples were taken.
A further 3,121 confirmed Covid-19 cases were announced for London on Sunday, down from a recent peak of 7,086 on July 20. The number of coronavirus patients in the city’s hospitals continued to rise slowly, to 1,029 as of Friday.
NHS chiefs are preparing to start delivering booster jabs as part of the vaccination programme from next month, with people who have had two doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford jab expected to get a significant immunity boost from a third dose of Pfizer.
Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade said tens of thousands of jobs were at risk in the aviation sector due to the pandemic and following the Government’s changes to travel rules in recent weeks, including the “total disaster” of placing France on the “amber-plus” list.
He stressed that bookings from the US had jumped 300 per cent after the Government announced that double-jabbed visitors from America and the European Union would not have to quarantine for 10 days on arrival in the UK, although France does not qualify for this exemption. But he said that adding more tiers to the travel system would over-complicate international travel, describing the amber list as a “red flag for travellers”.
He told Times Radio: “We’ve now only got six to eight weeks until the end of the summer, and tens of thousands of jobs are under threat in the travel and aviation sector.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is believed to be concerned about the idea of an “amber watchlist”, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak reported to have written to Mr Johnson calling for travel restrictions to be eased.