“I think” said a friend still hoping to spend a few weeks self-catering in France this summer, “the Government wants to cut us off entirely from Europe.” An extreme contention maybe, but his exasperation was understandable. Ministers’ policy on travel abroad is, frankly, insulting.
I avoided describing it as incompetent because they may have perfectly good reasons for it – that is, the presence in certain countries of a dangerous level of the Delta variant or other lurking mutations. But it’s insulting because they have consistently failed to explain those reasons. And it’s doubly insulting because they introduced a so called “watchlist”, designed to give some advance warning that a destination’s status was about to change (from green to amber for example) which does nothing of the kind. Witness the abrupt demise of holidays to Portugal. It was not until mid-morning after the announcement of the latest green list additions that the Government altered its website – confirming that all but Malta would be on a watchlist from the outset. That will hardly encourage wavering travellers to book.
Most, if not all, visitors to silvertraveladvisor.com will by now have received two vaccine doses. I have set out my back-of-an-envelope arithmetic in an earlier article, showing the extremely tiny risk of a double dosed traveller to a country with low infection rate encountering a native with the disease for long enough to contract it. And even if they did, it would either be asymptomatic, making them, we are told, 50% less likely than others to carry the virus home, or its effects would be relatively mild. Though Italy was demanding a five-day self-isolation for UK visitors at the time of writing, its 7-day rate had plunged to a mere 10.9 per 100,000 of its population. Croatia’s was 11.9, France’s rate was 20.7 and that in Greece was 24.8. That compared with the UK’s 126.4 – the worst in Europe. Indeed, though most of the increases in cases of the Delta variant are among the unvaccinated, it seemed surprising that more EU governments had not heeded Angela Merkel’s call for them to heed her plea.
What has happened to the suggestion, circulating widely in the past week or so, that costly PCR tests for returning holidaymakers might be replaced by a regime of frequent lateral flow checks? And what about Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ confirmation the Government planned to scrap self-isolation for fully vaccinated people coming home from amber list countries “later this summer”? What will he and his colleagues have learned a month from now that they either don’t or cannot know already?
Why can’t we be told what the scientists think of research by IATA and by individual airlines suggesting that the risk of contracting the virus on flights is very slight, or work by UK Hospitality that there was precious little evidence last year of infection spreading from its members’ venues? It is this lack of detail that frustrates beleaguered travel operators and makes it so hard to resist their protest that the Government simply doesn’t was us to leave the UK this summer – and that they have been sacrificed to protect the domestic tourism industry. Ryanair boss Michael O’leary has said the Government’s is deliberately seeking to sow confusion and that uncertainty will prevent people from booking holidays overseas.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has claimed there are concerns over fairness, as all younger people have not had a chance to get jabs. That is unfortunate, but it is hardly logical that those lucky enough to have been fully vaccinated – and the companies that may benefit from their custom, should be penalised as a consequence.
My friend’s response was no doubt coloured by the Government’s Brexit stance, but he has a point. It puts one in mind of that mythical Times headline: “Dense fog in the Channel: Continent isolated for three days”. That story may have stemmed from a joke. Nobody’s laughing now.