Wednesday, September 22News That Matters

Holidays abroad ‘unlikely until August’ as ministers consider traffic light travel system

Summer holidays abroad are unlikely to be allowed until August it has been reported, as a cabinet minister said a traffic light system was being considered to enable overseas trips.

Speaking to Sky News, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said there were “challenges around international travel” in the face of rising COVID-19 infection rates in Europe, but that “all options” were being looked at as part of a review of foreign breaks.

Officials have warned it is unlikely to lead to an early lifting of the coronavirus ban on travel abroad, when it reports on 12 April.

Foreign leisure trips are currently outlawed until at least 17 May, under the government’s roadmap.

However, a new law that comes in this week threatens a fine of up to £5,000 for anyone who tries to leave England before 30 June without “good reason”.

And a source told The Sunday Times newspaper this date was “very optimistic” and that “August is looking like the most likely moment”.

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However, ministers weighing up the decision over whether and when to allow holidays abroad will have an eye fixed firmly on increasing coronavirus cases on the continent and other parts of the world.

The continuing uncertainty has fuelled industry fears of holidaymakers “spread betting” by using flexible booking policies to secure breaks at home and abroad for the same dates, which they know they can cancel at short notice.

The pitfalls of booking a foreign holiday during the current pandemic were highlighted last year by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who imposed quarantine restrictions on Spain within an hour of arriving on holiday there.

The cabinet minister’s decision to suspend the air corridor with the popular tourist hotspot shortly after touching down last year, meant he had to cut his summer break short – leaving behind his family – and self-isolate for 14 days on his return.

He subsequently joked he was the last person people should take travel advice from.

Meanwhile, European Commissioner Thierry Breton has said he hopes Europe will have a summer tourist season “comparable to last year”, supported by mass vaccination against COVID-19.

Thailand has also announced vaccinated foreigners will be allowed to travel to Phuket, its biggest holiday island, from July without having to quarantine.

The country has until now had strict entry requirements, including mandatory quarantine, which has devastated tourism, but helped limit infections.

Pressed over the prospect for summer holidays abroad on the Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, Mr Dowden acknowledged that a traffic light system for international travel, which could allow shorter quarantine periods with increased testing, was being looked at.

He said: “We consider all options as part of the travel taskforce.

“You would expect when government formulates policy, the way we do this is we look at all the different options, we weigh them up, we come to a position and then when we come to that position, we publish that position and that’s the position that we’ll be setting out at the beginning of next month.”

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He added: “Clearly there are challenges around international travel, you only have to look across the continent and see the rising case rates in many of our nearest neighbours.

“It has been in the past the case that those rising infection rates have seen their way through to the UK; we’re hopeful that won’t happen this time round because of our progress with the vaccine and so on, but we do need to be cautious about that.

“That is why we have got this review; we’re looking at it carefully and you will get the results of that at the beginning of next month.”

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Sophy Ridge On Sunday highlights

Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds told Ridge that the opposition would “consider” supporting a traffic light system, but he argued the main priority should be to close the “gaping hole in our defences at the border”, with a blanket hotel quarantine for people coming to the UK.

He said: “I think only about 1% of arrivals at the moment are actually being put in hotel quarantine. Now, that has to change.”