Tour operators and airlines dismay over possible extra Covid travel curbs

Tour operators and airlines have reacted with dismay over latest suggestions that the UK Government will further toughen Covid travel restrictions.

Tougher rules are reported to be under consideration with even the possibility of a blanket ban on travel to fight the spread of infectious new Covid variants.

Alternatives include the use of hotels as quarantine centres and suspension of the test and release scheme to cut quarantine periods.

Home Secretary Priti Patel told a Downing Street press briefing it is “far too early” to speculate on restrictions, when asked whether people should be booking a foreign holiday for this summer.

Asked whether Britain could keep its borders closed to people outside the UK until the autumn, she said: “Our focus of course, with regards to borders and travel, people should not be travelling (now) unless of course it is absolutely critical and essential.”

But experts at the World Travel & Tourism Council said it was time for the UK to introduce an internationally-recognised testing regime on departure and arrivals instead of more radical restrictions.

Gloria Guevara, president and chief executive, said: “The latest expected announcement from the UK government, which will force UK arrivals to quarantine in a hotel for up to two weeks at their own cost, will be yet another crushing blow to the ailing UK Travel and Tourism sector.

“After months of forced quarantines post travel, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest it works. Even the government’s own figures show quarantines have not proved to be effective in reducing the spread of Covid-19.

“The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has said forcing air travellers to quarantine is not recommended and it is not an effective public health measure. Community transmission poses a far greater peril than international travel.

“The UK Government has in place a risk avoidance strategy – at huge social and economic cost to the country – when it could and should be more effective by managing the risk instead.

“WTTC believes the only way to revive international travel is for the wholesale introduction of an internationally recognised testing scheme on departure and arrival. This would avoid exporting the virus and enable the free movement of travellers, while observing common sense hygiene protocols such as mask wearing and social distancing.”

He claimed the proposed new measures would destroy the UK travel industry.

Mr Guevara added: “No inbound British or international traveller would want to embark on a trip knowing they’d face this disruption and be forced to pay for an additional two weeks in a hotel upon arrival, just to satisfy an unnecessary and unhelpful quarantine, which will do nothing to curb Covid-19.

“International arrivals spend was over £28 billion in 2019. So, the longer we delay the restart of international travel, the more profound will its loss be upon the UK economy and further set back its recovery from this punishing pandemic.”