Our window cleaner, Mark, comes to the door. “How’s Steve?”, my wife asks. Steve, who retired recently, was his partner. A Chelsea fan, so as I’m a near lifelong supporter of Fulham, there was always a certain amount of good-natured banter between us. “He’s fine”, says Mark, “Except he had his travel all arranged for the year. He was going on a cruise, going to the Canaries. All cancelled”.
I phone an old friend. We both feel the decision to slap a blanket restriction on travel to Spain was ill-conceived. His elder son’s theory is that after all the criticism of his early handling of the pandemic, Boris just wants us to look stricter than the other Europeans. Maybe he can also picture Nicola in the corner of his eye. Who knows?
“Do you have any indications of what might happen in France?” he asks. He and his wife are planning to rent a place in the Loire Valley in early September. They’ve both had fairly wretched years, health wise, and could really do with the break. “I’ve already paid”, he tells me. “We’ll probably go whatever happens.” It wouldn’t bother him if they had to self-isolate on return and if the Foreign & Commonwealth Office invalidated his insurance, well, because of pre-existing health conditions “they wanted so much money to insure us I’m going to risk it and rely on EHIC (the European Health Insurance Card).” He thinks a fair number of people will ignore restrictions. “They’ve obeyed the rules, done everything they were asked to, but the one thing they won’t put up with is mixed messages”.
He’s hit the nail on the head. First the Government imposes a worldwide quarantine requirement that appears largely unnecessary. Next, for reasons never adequately explained, it excludes Portugal from the list of exemptions. Then the FCO announces a ban on all cruising. Do they mean to include river cruises? What’s the difference between sailing up the Rhine on a boat and watching one glide past from a hotel on the bank? And what business is it of theirs if people cruise around Britain on ships departing from UK ports? Ah no, they explain quickly. We meant just international, ocean going cruises. Enter Grant Shapps’s Department for Transport. No, the FCO is wrong, cruises from the UK through UK waters are included. You are forgiven if you feel you need to read this paragraph again. Finally (or maybe not), on Sunday the FCO excludes the Balearic and Canary Islands from its advice against all but essential travel and the very next day it includes them. It all takes me back to those Whitehall farces of my childhood – but at least those were a harmless giggle.
Mind you, at least one suggestion from the travel industry side seems not to have been thought through. How about testing people on arrival and only requiring them to self-isolate or be quarantined if they test positive? Because, say the experts, you might not have it when you get here but you might have it a couple of days later. “All right then, why not isolate them for eight days, say, and test them again?” But if every country did that, hardly anyone would holiday abroad, anywhere. Would you want to risk arriving in Calais or Malaga, say, to be told that though you were asymptomatic, you had the virus, and you had to spend your precious holiday time cooped up in a hotel? Much better to do it at home.
What it all boils down to is how much risk you are prepared to take to avoid draining all the fun from life’s bank account, which in my case is already getting close to overdraft. I can’t even begin to give and opinion on that. It’s for each individual to decide. All I can hope is that after a life up ladders, Steve’s characteristic laugh is once again more infectious on Mediterranean beaches than this damned Covid-19.