Beyond my ever-present wonder at how it is possible for a government to be quite as incompetently as the one we have, the “amber list” travel fiasco makes me want to ask the British public “why travel abroad right now?”
People have flocked to make bookings for jaunts to countries like Spain, Greece, France, and Italy, despite the government’s website warning: “You should not travel to amber list countries or territories”.
After minsters started saving things akin to, "no, you’re good, jump on a plane, just be a bit careful and get your tests done", Boris Johnson sought to bring an end to the confusion and mixed messaging by reiterating that at Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs).
Trouble is, a large part of the public wasn't listening, aided and abetted by parts of the travel industry. The queues at at Heathrow and the blasé reaction of travellers interviewed by broadcasters while waiting for hours on end to get their passports stamped speak to that.
I find this genuinely puzzling. I get that people are keen to get away given the misery of the last year. Super keen.
But I find myself wondering what they think they’re actually getting away to?
Take Portugal. Portugal is currently off Britain’s international Covid-19 naughty step. It’s on the green list. Low Covid. But not no Covid. It isn’t free from restrictions any more than Britain is. So, if the beach is busy, holiday makers are wearing a mask and if they don’t they’re getting fined.
Now, I’m good with masks. I even wear one to exercise outdoors. I don’t object to countries imposing rules around wearing them either because, in case anyone’s forgotten, nearly 3.5m people have died from Covid globally, more than 1m of whom live in Europe.
But their use on the beach does rather make the point that the carefree coastal holidays Britons find irresistible simply aren’t available right now, at least not in the usual form.
Wherever people go they’re likely to find some level of restrictions imposed when they get there, some level of extra stress - including a testing regime - some level of local law enforcement taking a dim view of the entitled behaviour that holidaymakers are sometimes apt to indulge in. Fun in the sun? Good luck with finding it.
This is before we even get to the amber list that’s created such a lot of ministerial scurrying around and talking out of… well I think you know.
If the plan is to spend time on a Spanish, French, Greek or Italian beach for a week or two, people better be prepared for ten days of confinement to quarters when they get home. Expect a knock on the door from one of Priti Patel's "Covid marshals" to make sure you aren't breaking out of self isolation early.
You are likely to get "smacked" with a fine if that is the case. Except that the word “smack” rather underestimates the consequences for those who disobey the rules. It’s more accurate to say punch. The fine could be much, much bigger than the €100 the mask-less sunbathers may find themselves shelling out to the Portuguese police. Penalties can reach ten grand. You can class that as a haymaker. And again, I’m not necessarily objecting, because killer pandemic.
It is also possible to reduce the time spent on personal lockdown. Travellers just have to get PCR tests to prove they’re clear. Private ones, which don’t come cheap, in addition to the battery of them they’ll need have to get before they go.
“There’s a lot of cost and hassle and quarantine required when you go to those countries,” said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
If there were an award for understatement, Shappsy would surely be at the top of the list for this year’s gong. It goes way beyond hassle.
Covid-19, the restrictions, the stress, the confusion, the rules when people get to their hotels, they all threaten to put a whole new complexion on the phrase “holiday from hell”.
There’s an army of new pitchfork wielding demons out there, the worst of which is a fatty ball of protein and RNA covered in spikes that you can’t even see.
Desperate to get away? Getting away looks pretty desperate. Staycations have never looked so good.