Covid-19: People can start thinking about foreign travel – Shapps

People in England can start thinking about booking foreign holidays again this summer, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said.

But he said the cost of the Covid tests required needed to be driven down, amid criticism from the travel industry. 

Mr Shapps has also given more detail on the traffic light system which will see countries graded on their risk.

Passengers will have to take the tests before leaving and on returning – even from low-risk “green” countries.

There will be a watch list for countries that could go from green to amber.

Announcing the findings of the Global Travel Taskforce set up by the government to examine how leisure travel could be reopened safely after lockdown, Mr Shapps said foreign holidays would resume on 17 May at the earliest.

He said for the first time in months he was not advising against booking foreign trips.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is the first time I’m able to come on and say I’m not advising against booking foreign holidays. 

“Yes, you’ll want to check what the situation is in two or three weeks’ time when that list – the green, amber, red, is produced – you’ll want to know that you’ve got good holiday insurance and flexible flights and the rest of it. 

“But for the first time I think there is light at the end of the tunnel and we’ll be able to restart international travel, including cruises by the way, in a safe and secure way, knowing about the vaccinations, everything we know about the disease this year, and of course that abundance of caution – having the tests in place.”

The traffic light system will grade foreign destinations as being:

  • Green: Passengers will not need to quarantine on return, but must take a pre-departure test, as well as a PCR test on return to the UK
  • Amber: Travellers will need to quarantine for 10 days, as well as taking a pre-departure test and two PCR tests
  • Red: Passengers will have to pay for a 10-day stay in a managed quarantine hotel, as well as a pre-departure test and two PCR tests

Mr Shapps told BBC Breakfast the use of PCR tests – those needing to be sent to a lab – enabled scientists to detect potential variants of concern.

But he said he was “concerned” about the cost of the tests, adding that the government was committed to driving down the price of these by working with the private sector.

The transport secretary said the government was also looking at the possibility of allowing people to take cheaper lateral flow tests before travelling. 

The government has not yet said which countries will be green, amber or red – but said it would do so by early May. 

Mr Shapps said countries would be categorised based on level of infections and vaccinations, variants of concern and the quality of their genetic sequencing.

He said this list would be kept under constant review and that he was hopeful European countries would be upgraded as their vaccination rates improve. 

Nearly 40 countries are currently on the UK government’s current red list of countries from which travel is banned, except for British and Irish nationals and those with residence rights in the UK.

The rules will be reviewed at the end of June to see whether any measures can be rolled back, the government said.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the government had not outlined the traffic light system in detail and criticised the release of the plans while the House of Commons was not sitting. 

He told BBC Breakfast: “The government has spoken about factors like vaccination rates, infection rates, the position with variants and also about the level of genomic sequencing. But I’ve no idea what the levels of each of those are for the government to place countries into, whether it’s the green category, amber or red.” 

The first ministers of Scotland and Wales have both already argued that 17 May will be too early for foreign holidays to resume.

Northern Ireland has not yet announced its plans, but its chief medical officer has said it would be “premature” to book a foreign summer trip.

At the moment, almost anyone seeking to travel to England must first take a coronavirus testbefore departure and then two tests when they arrive, bought through a private provider. Children under 11 are exempt.

Consumer group Which? estimated that each PCR test – which is just one of the tests needed – could cost about £120 per person.

However, the government said it would work with airlines, travel firms and the test providers to see whether prices can be reduced. That could involve cheaper tests, or the government providing the pre-departure tests.

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Analysis box by Caroline Davies, transport correspondent

Today’s report is not the grand reopening many in the travel industry wanted. 

There is real worry, particularly among lower cost carriers, that around £100 per person for a test will dissuade travellers from booking, with many paying more for it than for their flights. 

But there are suggestions that the government has tried to address some of the concerns too. 

The introduction of a green watch list, to flag any countries potentially about to move from green to amber, is an attempt to avoid some of last year’s confusion, as people rushed back to the UK before countries required quarantine.

Nothing is guaranteed yet, but the government now says it will confirm whether or not international travel will restart on 17 May early next month. 

How early is the next question. 

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What is the travel industry saying?

The government’s plans have been met with mixed reaction from the travel industry.

  • Heathrow Airport chief executive officer John Holland-Kaye expressed concern about the requirement for PCR testing, adding “we need to make sure that travel is something anyone can do and is not just something for the wealthy”
  • Industry body Airlines UK said that the proposed framework “does not represent a reopening of travel as promised by ministers”
  • Mark Tanzer, boss of travel trade organisation Abta, said permitting the use of lateral flow tests would “make international travel more accessible and affordable” 
  • Jet2.com has extended the suspension of its flights and holidays up to 23 June following the government’s announcement 
Travellers arrive at Heathrow Terminal 5
image captionThe travel industry says lateral flow tests, which are cheaper and faster, would be preferable to PCR tests

Thursday’s daily government figures showed a further 53 people had died with coronavirus within 28 days of a positive test, while another 3,030 confirmed cases were reported.

Graphic showing UK daily coronavirus figures

Ryanair narrows loss forecast for year to end-March

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ryanair on Wednesday said it expected to post a smaller than expected loss in the year to the end of March and said the Irish airline expected to be “close to breakeven” in its current financial year.

Europe’s largest low-cost carrier said it expected a net loss of between 800 million euros and 850 million euros ($949 million-$1.01 billion) in the year to March 31 compared to previous guidance of 850 million to 950 million.

It said it expected traffic for the 12 months to the end of March 2022 to be towards the lower end of its previously guided range of 80 million to 120 million passengers, due to the slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in the European Union.

Ryanair is due to publish its annual results on May 17.

($1 = 0.8426 euros)

EasyJet: Two test travel plan would be too expensive

The boss of EasyJet has said testing requirements under a proposed “traffic light” system for international travel would be too expensive.

Under the system, no isolation would be necessary on return to the UK from so-called “green” countries.

But pre-departure and post-arrival tests would be required, potentially costing up to £200 each.

Johan Lundgren said: “You wouldn’t open up international travel for everyone, but only those who can afford it.”

Mr Lundgren told the BBC’s Today programme that the cost of getting the tests would exceed a typical EasyJet fare.

On Sunday, plans for a risk-based system to restart foreign travel were outlined, in which countries would be classified as “green”, “amber” or “red” based on their infection rates and vaccination coverage.

However, while the prime minister said he was “hopeful” that non-essential foreign travel could begin again on 17 May, he added that more data was needed before a firm decision could be taken.

Mr Lundgren said: “If you are ticking all of those boxes to become a green destination… [Multiple tests] don’t make sense to me and it would add to cost and complexities.”

He said that the testing requirement for those countries was “concerning”, but added that he still expected holidays in the summer months of July and August would be able to go ahead.

Scientists and ministers recently warned that holidays to destinations such as France, where Covid cases are rising, are “unlikely”. But Mr Lundgren said: “There’s a huge amount of pressure building up now in these countries to get going and make sure they can follow the example of the UK in its vaccine rollout.”

Other travel industry figures also called for clarity following the Prime Minister’s latest announcement on lockdown restrictions easing.

The Business Travel Association said the announcement was “beyond disappointing” and called for “a clear pathway to international travel and trade”.

Its chief executive, Clive Wratten, said moves to open borders had “once again been kicked down the road”.

“The business travel industry continues to be crippled by today’s lack of movement,” he added.

The boss of travel firm Thomas Cook, Alan French, also told the BBC’s Wake Up to Money that a lack of clarity around what type of tests might be required for passengers and when they would need to be taken was a let-down.

He said that overall, there were “glimmers of good news”, in that the earliest date for travel resuming on 17 May was not pushed back. “But actually, the details were missing and that was disappointing,” he said.

‘Disappointed’

On Monday, Mr Johnson said he did not want to see coronavirus re-imported from abroad and urged people to wait for a report from the Global Travel Taskforce on 12 April.

But Gemma Antrobus, owner of independent travel company Haslemere Travel, warned that business owners like herself faced a difficult path.

“Disappointed is putting it mildly. Where we hoped confidence would start to pick up, and more people would be interested in booking holidays… that just won’t come this week.”

She added that some customers had now moved bookings for holidays five times now amid changing restrictions.

“Every week we don’t have that confidence from consumers, business owners like myself just wonder what lies ahead.”

British Airways CEO optimistic travel can resume on May 17

LONDON (Reuters) – The chief executive of British Airways said he is optimistic that international travel can resume from May 17 despite Britain warning on Monday that it was too soon to say whether holidays could restart.

“We are optimistic that travel can resume on the 17th of May, and the British public should not lose hope, and we remain optimistic that this will happen,” BA CEO Sean Doyle told an online briefing.

Exclusive: Lufthansa resumes Frankfurt Tehran flights this month

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – German airline Lufthansa said on Friday that it would resume flights from Frankfurt to Tehran from April 16.

Lufthansa had suspended flights in January 2020 after a Ukranian airliner was shot down soon after take-off from Tehran.

The airline said it has since assessed security measures by Iran with national and international authorities.

“The conditions for safe flight operations in Iranian airspace are currently in place,” it said in an emailed statement.

Airbus and Dassault reach tentative deal on FCAS fighter: Source

PARIS (Reuters) – Industrial partners including Airbus and Dassault Aviation have reached a tentative deal on the European FCAS fighter project after weeks of deadlock over workshare and other topics, a person close to the matter said on Friday.

The agreement, first reported by La Tribune, paves the way for talks to resume at a political level among the project’s three government backers, France, Germany and Spain, the source said.

Airbus and Dassault both declined to comment.

The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) is designed to replace the German-Spanish Eurofighter and Dassault’s Rafale with a combination of manned and unmanned aircraft from 2040.

First floated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in 2017, the programme has been dogged by political differences as well as corporate disagreements.

It is also up against the rival BAE Systems-led Tempest fighter project involving Britain, Sweden and Italy.

A joint proposal from European defence group Airbus and Dassault still faces outstanding issues, including intellectual property matters, Dassault Chief Executive Eric Trappier said last month.

Dassault had accepted that Airbus will receive a larger overall share of FCAS work but remained ready to pursue a “Plan B” alternative if the talks failed, Trappier also said.

The industrial partners in the aircraft programme are Airbus on behalf of Germany, France’s Dassault and Indra of Spain.

Separate negotiations have been taking place with engine suppliers Safran of France, MTU Aero in Germany and ITP, a Spanish subsidiary of Rolls Royce.

IATA says travel pass app to launch on Apple mid-April

DUBAI (Reuters) – Global airline industry body IATA said on Wednesday a digital travel pass for COVID-19 test results and vaccine certificates would be launched on the Apple platform in mid-April.

The digital travel pass, currently in the testing phase, had been planned to be launched by the end of March.

IATA Regional Vice President for Africa and the Middle East Kamil Alawadhi said it was expected to launch on the Apple platform around April 15, and later for the Android platform.

“But the application will only achieve its success once airlines, different countries, airports adopt it,” Alawadhi said.

UK-based carrier Virgin Atlantic said on Friday it would trial the IATA app on its London to Barbados route from April 16. Barbados has said it will accept the pass at its border, one of the first countries to accept a digital pass instead of paper documentation.

IATA has said its travel pass will help speed up check-ins.

“A huge amount of airlines have requested to be on board,” Alawadhi said.

Exclusive: Japan to issue digital vaccine passport: Nikkei

(Reuters) – Japan is set to issue digital health certificates to citizens who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, joining China, the EU and other countries that have adopted similar measures aimed at opening up overseas travel, the Nikkei reported s.nikkei.com/3stfAX6 on Saturday.

In line with international standards, the certificate can be managed on a mobile app, allowing the carrier to present the proof of vaccination when boarding a plane or checking in to a hotel, the report said.

The app is also focused on foreigners staying in Japan and returning to their respective home countries, according to the report.

Covid: Welsh tourism businesses prepare to reopen

Tourism businesses in Wales have said they are making plans to reopen ahead of Friday’s lockdown review.

Welsh government ministers and health officials are expected to discuss on Thursday whether travel restrictions can be eased to allow limited tourism in Wales over Easter.

Safe-catered accommodation could reopen from 27 March and outdoor hospitality will be considered for 22 April.

Businesses said they were “champing at the bit” to get back.

At the last lockdown review hairdressers, garden centres and some non-essential retailwere given their dates to open.

The first minister also announced tourism could start to reopen by Easter if case rates stayed low, but he warned a decision would not be made until “the last moment” and that tourism openings would come to a halt “if bookings were made from outside Wales”.

People in England cannot go on holiday elsewhere in the UK until 12 April.

Graphic showing possible openings

‘90% of our customers come from England’

Catherine Hummel
image captionCatherine Hummel said different rules across the border made it more “complicated” to reopen

Catherine Hummel, co-owner of Riverside Camping near Caernarfon, said she was expecting a “softer reopening” due to having to decline English bookings, but that they were making preparations to open.

She said: “Ninety per cent of our customers come from England, but we’re looking forward to welcoming people back.

“We’ve been out all week cutting the grass and painting to make it as welcoming as possible.

“We have had to cancel around 100 bookings from England for Easter already, some were double cancellations from last year, so that’s a double cancellation for some which isn’t nice to do. 

“Business-wise I’m sad we can’t welcome guests from England back just yet, but as a parent and member of the community I want to keep staff and guests as safe as possible.

“We’re still not sure on when we can welcome back people from England, the complication there lies in the reopening being different across the four nations like it was last year.

“Last year we had thousands of emails assuming the rules were the same here when they weren’t – it makes it complicated.”

Anglesey Case rates graphic
image captionAnglesey at one point has some of the lowest case rates in the UK but is currently 35th – Holyhead is now second highest of the Wales localised hotspots

‘It’s a double-edged sword’

Nia Rhys Jones, joint chair of Anglesey Tourism Association and owner of some self-catering accommodation, said for some businesses it was “just not worth the cost of reopening”.

She said: “It’s all good allowing self-contained accommodation to reopen, but a lot of businesses on Anglesey are not opening because the bulk of trade comes from England, so opening is not worth the cost for some.

“There is some nervousness about people from parts of south Wales travelling up here and potentially seeing rates rise again.

“It’s a real double-edged sword, businesses need trade from England, but also don’t want to be bringing coronavirus back into our communities.”

Sean Taylor
image captionSean Taylor said the “most important thing is notice”

Sean Taylor, founder of the Zip World group of attractions in Snowdonia, said he would be glad to see businesses open but “the most important thing is notice”. 

He said: “We’re a well-run business, but we need to be able to plan ahead. Any reopening after lockdown will need some time for staff training to take place and for us to organise things with suppliers. Even the most basic things as tea and coffee need a moment to get sorted before you can open the doors.”

‘Champing at the bit to get back’

Paula Ellis
image captionPaula Ellis said the last 12 months had been “the most challenging time of our careers”

Paula Ellis is the group general manager for Retreats Group Ltd, chair of South West Tourism Forum and a member of the Covid Emergency Taskforce Group for Tourism, Hospitality and Events. 

She said lockdown had been “the most challenging time of our careers” and that without government support she did not know how the industry would have survived.

She said she hoped the plans can go ahead to open tourism by Easter and that preparations have been under way since ministers announced in February it was a possibility, but she said she would understand if it was not the case.

“We understand that if further strains are found or the R number changes in Wales that the Welsh government would have to retract the opening.

“For all our hopes and aspirations, the health of the nation does need to come first.”

She said she was hoping for a busy summer however, and was “very much looking forward to a phenomenal demand for domestic tourism”, which she said Wales may never see again.

She added she would feel “a lot more confident to open safely” this summer as opposed to last as people have begun to be vaccinated and a lot of her guests tended to be older so would probably have had their jabs already.

“My main concern since last year is how I can look after my colleagues, community and guests, and in that order.

“My team are champing at the bit to be back and you can really feel the camaraderie.”

What do the people living in tourist destinations think?

Fiona Christie lives in Porthcawl and said she was nervous about the influx of people that could come to the town if rules allowed.

Fiona Christie
image captionFiona Christie lives in Porthcawl and said crowds in the summer can be “pretty hideous”

She said: “I am nervous – I think Porthcawl is going to be pretty hideous in the summer to be fair. I think everybody is going to just come.

“It’s lovely for people to come, but I think there’s going to be an influx of people.

“I think people were more nervous last year and so they were careful, but this year I think everybody’s probably had enough.”

Carolyn Peers
image captionCarolyn Peers said it can be daunting for people living in tourist towns

Carolyn Peers, who also lives in the seaside town, said: “It happened last year and we couldn’t even walk along the prom there was so many people – and whilst I understand people wanting got come out, it’s daunting if you live here as well.”

Marilyn and Ralph Greenslade are from nearby Kenfig Hill, so have been able to visit Porthcawl since the “stay local” rule came into place.

Mr Greenslade said: “It’s absolutely delightful to come down here once again. We come down here as much as we can, we’ll always have a coffee, we meet up with friends, and to be able to do that again – it’s a treat.

“If people are sensible, everything will be okay – it’s when you get masses of people meeting, not social distancing, then you really begin to worry.”

Ralph and Marilyn Greenslade
image captionRalph and Marilyn Greenslade said not being able to travel to Porthcawl before “stay local” was introduced had been like a “prison sentence”

Mrs Greenslade said they were both teachers and go to Porthcawl to blow off steam.

“Not coming for three months – it was like a prison sentence. So that feeling of freedom, and meeting my lovely friends, I’ve been singing and dancing all week,” she said. 

“Porthcawl has got something for everyone so I don’t worry too much about the summer months because we are quite good at avoiding crowds anyway. But I am delighted, and I can’t wait for other people to enjoy and keep the businesses going.”