Covid: EU plans to reopen borders for non-essential travel, giving hope to holidaymakers
The EU has revealed plans to reopen its borders to holidaymakers from countries with low virus rates by the start of June.
The European Commission's plan to relax restrictions on non-essential travel come as UK MPs urged their government to discourage overseas summer holidays.An EU official said the UK may be on the list of countries that are deemed to enter the bloc. The individual, who was not authorised to be quoted because the proposal has yet to be adopted, said Israel would definitely be on the list.
In the UK, an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on coronavirus urged the government to “discourage all international leisure travel”.
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It claimed the importation of new variants could “lead to further lockdowns, and inevitably, further loss of life”.
Boris Johnson said that he did not want to see an “influx of disease” once international travel resumes, which is why the government is being “as cautious as we can” with the road map.
“We do want to do some opening up on May 17 but I don’t think that the people of this country want to see an influx of disease from anywhere else,” the Prime Minister told reporters during a campaign visit to Hartlepool.
“I certainly don’t and we have got to be very, very tough, and we have got to be as cautious as we can, whilst we continue to open up.”
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Meanwhile, the APPG described airport arrival halls as “a breeding ground for infection”. It recommended that passengers returning from green, amber and red countries under the new risk-based traffic light system do not mix.
Passengers’ documents should be checked before they enter an arrival halls, where possible, so those being transported to quarantine facilities are moved “rapidly”, the group added.
It also called for “adequate financial support” to be provided to travel firms, and for a reversal to the reduction in funding for international research projects assisting the fight against the virus.
The ban on foreign holidays is expected to be lifted for people in England from May 17 as part of the next easing of coronavirus restrictions.
But the APPG wants the government to “maintain curbs on international leisure travel” beyond that date.
Lucy Moreton, professional officer for the Immigration Services Union, which represents border immigration and customs staff, told a hearing held by the group last month that around 100 people try to enter the UK each day with “fake” certificates showing recent negative coronavirus tests.
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, who chairs the APPG, said: “It is staggering that the government is even contemplating encouraging overseas holidays when airports are already struggling to keep the virus and new variants at bay.
“Urgent measures are needed to better detect fake Covid test certificates, reduce overcrowding in arrival halls and separate out those arriving from red and amber list countries.
“The country’s biosecurity cannot rely on border staff spotting a spelling error.”
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Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, claimed the “best financial support the government can now offer the travel sector is to open up overseas travel as planned from the 17th May”.
He went on: “Not only can this be done safely with widespread testing, but it would also unlock much-needed revenues from business and leisure travellers keen to see family they haven’t seen for a year.
“Better digital technology would certainly enable more seamless travel through our borders and I’d urge the government to invest in this more quickly so as to avoid airport queues in future.”
Meanwhile, Thomas Cook chief executive Alan French said there was “great progress” in countries such as Portugal and Spain in preparing for the return of holidaymakers.
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“When the holidays proper start at the end of June, we are expecting most of the countries that the UK goes on holiday to - Europe particularly - to be open,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“We are expecting Portugal, Spain, Greece, Croatia and so forth to be open, it would be nice if Turkey was open.
“When we look at what is going on in those countries, both in terms of infection rates and how they are preparing for holidaymakers, I think there is great progress being made.”
A government spokesperson said: “We introduced robust border controls to stop coronavirus variants in their tracks and every essential check we’ve introduced for arrivals has strengthened our defences against new mutations.
“As the UK unlocks domestically and with many British families spread far and wide, we understand that people may need to travel abroad for all sorts of reasons.
"But we can only permit it if it is done safely, which is why the Global Travel Taskforce has produced the Traffic Light system allowing us to manage the risk from imported cases by varying restrictions depending on the risk of travel from a specific location.”
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