‘Illogical’ plans to make vaccinated travellers take Covid tests ‘must be ditched’

·8-min read
Vaccinated travellers returning to the UK from 'green list' countries should not have to take a PCR test, maintain travel industry leaders
Vaccinated travellers returning to the UK from 'green list' countries should not have to take a PCR test, maintain travel industry leaders

The Government must recognise the vaccination status of British travellers and ditch “illogical” plans to force them to take tests, say the UK’s leading aviation and travel bosses.

In a joint article for The Telegraph, which can be read in full below, the chief executives of BA, Heathrow, easyJet, Manchester Airport Group and Jet2 say the “over-abundance of caution” by the Government is out of kilter with other European countries and threatens millions of Britons’ holiday plans.

They say it is illogical to require fully vaccinated British holidaymakers to pay £60 per person to take a PCR test when returning from a safe “green” list country judged by the UK to be low risk, with minimal Covid infections or variants.

Even the EU – “not known for rash decisions when it comes to vaccines and the precautionary principle” – is allowing holidaymakers with proof of vaccination to sidestep tests and quarantine, they say.

“Instead of taking advantage of the success of the vaccine programme, the Government risks closing the UK off from the rest of the world,” they warn.

“Travel even from green countries will still require arrivals into the UK to take a ‘gold-standard’ PCR test … a huge barrier to travel for most people and despite assurances from the Government that tests would be affordable.”

Their appeal comes as ministers are due to decide on Thursday which countries will be “green”, allowing quarantine-free travel from May 17. The “tiny handful” is expected to include Gibraltar, Malta, Israel, Iceland and possibly Portugal.

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Most of Europe – including popular destinations in France, Spain, Greece and Italy – will be amber, requiring holidaymakers to quarantine at home for 10 days on their return and take two PCR tests.

Ministers hope most European countries will be open to green list travel by the end of June under plans to review the lists every three weeks.

But the bosses – John Holland Kaye (Heathrow), Sean Doyle (BA), Johan Lundgren (easyJet), Steve Heapy (Jet2) and Charlie Cornish (MAG) – say the “abundance of caution” over the reopening on May 17 will “leave the country stuck on the runway”.

“Make no mistake, permitting quarantine-free travel to only a handful of countries or tiny islands and few, if any, of the UK main overseas markets would be a restart in name only,” they write.

“Given the improving health picture, availability of rapid tests and the role of vaccines, the scope for safely designating a country ‘green’ is much higher and we believe that the number of countries on the green list can and should be high at restart.”

The UK may face a challenge from EU countries which are waiving the requirement for fully vaccinated holidaymakers to have negative PCR tests and is expecting “reciprocal” arrangements from Britain.

“We don’t think this decision by the UK is logical,” said Carlos Garrido, president of Spain’s CEAV confederation of travel agencies. “The logical thing is for people who can show they have been vaccinated not to be asked to take PCR tests or face mandatory quarantine.”

Gloria Guevara, CEO and President of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), which advises the G20, said: “The proposed traffic light system criteria is so complicated that its likely to exclude most countries from the green category.

"Unless the UK comes up with a system that provides more realistic re-opening criteria, and allows its travel and tourism sector to restart, many of the millions of jobs that remain at risk in the UK and elsewhere will be lost.

"This is putting the UK at a competitive disadvantage with other regions such as the US and EU that are taking a more pragmatic and risk based approach to opening up overseas travel.”

Government over-caution threatens to squander our vaccine dividend

Anticipation is mounting as the long-awaited return to international travel fast approaches, write John Holland Kaye, Sean Doyle, Johan Lundgren, Steve Heapy and Charlie Cornish. An announcement on which countries make the “green list” for quarantine-free travel is expected from the PM within days. With foreign travel having been illegal now for months – still shocking to think about – and having been heavily restricted for over a year, many people are desperate to reunite with family and friends abroad, take a deserved and delayed holiday, or reconnect with overseas businesses on whom millions of British livelihoods depend.

However, as we approach this milestone, there remains a very real danger that an over-abundance of caution by politicians will leave the country stuck on the runway. Instead of taking advantage of the success of the vaccine programme, the Government risks closing the UK off from the rest of the world. We want to be able to support a safe reopening, but if we are not prepared to accept any risk, then travel will never restart and we will not be able to support travel and tourism businesses devastated by the pandemic, and super-charge the UK’s economic recovery.

On Monday, the EU – not known for rash decisions when it comes to vaccines and the precautionary principle – said that those with proof of vaccination should be able to travel without restrictions across the bloc, given how effective vaccines have been shown to be.

The UK’s vaccine rollout has been a historic success and puts us in a very different place to the winter. The evidence is mounting that the jabs are protecting the NHS, cutting significantly the risk of infection and the transmissibility of the virus itself. A study by Public Health England (PHE) has shown that even just one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine reduces household transmission by up to half, on top of cutting significantly the risk of infection and protecting from serious illness. However, unlike the EU position, having both doses of a vaccine (more than 15 million people in the UK fall into this category) will make no difference to your requirements to test and even quarantine on return to the UK, an illogical stance and one that needs to be addressed quickly.

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Cost of testing a huge barrier

The UK has the best sequencing capabilities in the world and should be working with other countries to track variants of concern more efficiently without the need for expensive testing requirements on the lowest-risk journeys. As it stands, travel even from green countries will still require arrivals into the UK to take a “gold-standard” PCR test, which until recently were costing more than double the European average at more than £100 each, a huge barrier to travel for most people and even with assurances from government that tests would be affordable. 

Despite having levers it can pull, the Government has not yet made good on its promise to bring prices down and more work must be done urgently, with removing the burden of VAT on what is a health test a good place to start.

Alongside cost, indications are that the initial list of “green” countries will be limited from May 17th, rather than the more comprehensive list that the science and data would allow for. Make no mistake, permitting quarantine-free travel to only a handful of countries or tiny islands and few, if any, of the UK main overseas markets would be a restart in name only. Given the improving health picture, availability of rapid tests and the role of vaccines, the scope for safely designating a country “green” is much higher, and we believe that the number of countries on the list can and should be high at restart.

Ministers must be transparent about travel restrictions

Public health comes first, and the UK travel industry has consistently backed the health measures that have been put in place at the border to protect the UK during the pandemic despite the tens of thousands of job losses that have sadly resulted. But an over-cautious approach has consequences too, for our freedoms, for livelihoods and for the economy. The Government has never revealed any of its analysis about the risk it claims is posed by international travel, and must be open and transparent about explaining how it justifies its travel restrictions.

The often-cited risk of variants entering the UK is real and requires vigilance. However, no one is saying that come May 17, air travel will be a free-for-all and we must keep in mind that for much of the rest of the world, the main variant of concern is our own, home-grown Kent variety. Under the traffic light system, travel will and should remain highly restricted from countries where Covid levels are very high, or variants pose a real risk. Amber countries will again face a level of additional checks and precautions. However, where Covid levels are low, it is no riskier to travel abroad than it is to travel from London to Birmingham or Belfast, or anywhere else in the UK.

The announcement that international travel can commence will be a genuine turning point and hopefully the start of a sustained recovery towards something more like normal. Our message to the Government is do not waste an opportunity afforded to us by the vaccine rollout to get Britain flying again.

John Holland Kaye is chief executive of Heathrow, Sean Doyle is chief executive of BA, Johan Lundgren is chief executive of easyJet, Steve Heapy is chief executive of Jet2 and Charlie Cornish is chief executive of Manchester Airports Group