How did UK travel regulations fail to catch up with the rest of Europe?


Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — After spending months putting in place a “traffic light system” to classify countries in red, orange or green according to their level of risk, and enforce checks and quarantine procedures to match them, the British government launched the COVID-19 travel regulations. 19″ on May 7, but it appears that it has returned to its first update to the chart less than a month after its launch.

On June 3, destinations such as Malta, Greece and Grenada were widely expected to join the green list, meaning that anyone arriving from those destinations would avoid quarantine.

But instead, the British government did not add any new country to the green list, but rather lowered the classification of Portugal, the only real tourist destination in the United Kingdom, from the green list to the orange list, which means that travelers coming from there must undergo a quarantine for 10 days. days.

This wasn’t supposed to happen, but rather the green countries that were moving towards the orange list were supposed to be added first to the “green watch list”, giving a fitting warning that the destination rating could change to “give travelers more certainty”. It was announced at the time.

Instead, “the British government started tearing up the rulebook at the first opportunity,” according to Simon McNamara, country director in charge of the UK and Ireland at the International Air Transport Association.

McNamara continues: “It was widely expected that some countries would be added [في 3 يونيو]”.

Announcing the modernization on 3 June, British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he was taking a “safety first approach”.

McNamara insists the British government “did exactly what it said it wouldn’t do, and it created chaos”.

The last straw

Portugal’s removal from the green list has angered travel makersCredit: PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP via Getty Images

It created not just chaos but anger, and the travel industry, which has been crippled around the world by the COVID-19 pandemic, was already exhausted. But Portugal’s removal from the green list has pushed many industry workers over the edge.

Hence the angry email from Trailfinders, one of the UK’s largest travel agents, to the company’s 1.2 million customers.

The letter reads: “How many Border Force officials are required to screen a fully-vaccinated British traveler returning from a country with no worse infection rates than the United Kingdom?”

The message includes a table of the numbers of “Covid-19” cases and vaccination rates in five countries: Malta, the United States of America, Canada, Portugal and Spain, all of which showed lower infection rates than the United Kingdom.

“The traveling public deserve the facts,” says Toby Kelly, CEO of Trailfinders, when asked why the email was sent.

He added, “We were told that the decisions of the traffic light system were based on data. The data and the methodology must be made public, so we wanted [عملائنا] to look at the data and draw their own conclusions.”

A UK Department for Transport spokesperson told CNN that the traffic light system is set by ministers, who make the decision by assessing the risks identified by the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

Factors include genetic control ability, transmission risk, and miscellaneous risks.

But Kelly believes that this is not enough. “Travel confidence was hit hard when Portugal was dropped from the green list, as this indicates that countries will enter and leave without clear justification,” he says.

“If travelers understand that cases in other countries are lower, or as low as UK levels, and that immunization levels are similar, or greater, they may feel more confident about booking travel for the months ahead,” he adds.

The European Union agrees to allow entry to vaccinated travelers.

For Julia Le Boy-seed, chief executive of the Adventure Travel Partnership, the UK’s largest independent association of travel agents, there is a lot of fear in the community, and a lot of panic: “I feel the government is playing it, Otherwise, it makes no sense. In the absence of transparency, it leads you to ask questions.”

Le Puy-Sid points to the summer of 2020, when the UK’s list of “travel corridors” allowed people to travel to and from the country without checks or quarantine.

“We have vaccinated 50% of the adult population, so how can we be worse off now than last year?” she asked.

what happened?

Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands inhabited by penguins are among the unexpected destinations on the UK’s green list.Credit: Charlene Rowland/CNN

After a disastrous bout of “Covid-19” in the first year of the pandemic, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “deeply sorry” when the United Kingdom became the first country in Europe to include 100,000 deaths from the Corona virus on January 26.

The ultra-fast vaccine campaign has won plaudits around the world, and more than 42 million of its 53 million residents have received at least one dose.

And unlike many countries around the world that closed their borders, quarantined or tested measures at the start of the pandemic, the UK was allowing anyone to enter from anywhere in the world, without undergoing any screening or quarantine, for the first few months.

In June 2020, it imposed a comprehensive 14-day quarantine on anyone arriving from a destination not classified as “low risk”.

After the UK mutant was discovered in December 2020, some countries banned arrivals from the UK.

Nonessential travel was soon declared illegal, with fines of £5,000, or $7,000, imposed in March 2021 on those caught at the airport trying to flee the country without sufficient reason.

But while restrictions were increasing, the travel industry was looking to the future. In February, the UK government set up a Travel Task Force to create a “Framework for the Safe and Sustainable Return of International Travel” with a view to restarting on 17 May.

The team consulted specialists in the travel industry, from airlines to tour operators, and the result was a traffic light system, announced on May 7. It accepts tourists from the United Kingdom (eg Australia and New Zealand) and smaller destinations not suitable for mass tourism, such as the Falkland Islands and the Faroe Islands.

Israel, Gibraltar and Portugal were the only sunshine destinations on the list, but the current conflict in Israel has left them out for many. As for the British overseas territory of Gibraltar, it is hardly a mass tourist destination, with an area of ​​only 2,625 square miles.

Airlines put their hopes on flights to Portugal, and non-essential travel became legal again on May 17.

But the race to the Portuguese sun only lasted 17 days, when the update came and Portugal moved to the orange list.

Increased mutations despite vaccinations

United kingdom
Quarantine at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Heathrow is a necessary measure for travelers from Red List countries.Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

With infection rates rising despite the distribution of the vaccine, case numbers rose 78% in the week leading up to 18 June, prompting both Italy to impose a five-day quarantine on arrivals from the United Kingdom, and the European Union to keep it off the “white list”. approved destinations.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was criticized for not adding India to the red list on April 9, when he added two neighboring countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Instead, wait until the 23rd of the same month.

“They should have put India on the red list at the same time as Pakistan and Bangladesh,” said opposition MP Yvette Cooper. “Since then, we’ve had a three-week period during which thousands of people returned from India which may include hundreds of new mutated coronavirus cases.” .

Currently, the delta mutant, first discovered in India, is dominant in the UK and is leading what scientists call a third wave that was already poised when the government pulled Portugal off the green list.

A DOT spokesperson told CNN: “The decision not to add any country to the Green List and to move Portugal to the Orange List was taken in light of the alarming mutations and emerging booms.”

He added: “England is taking a cautious approach to opening up international travel, to protect the UK from new infections at a time of low infection rates and the continued distribution of the vaccine.”

Tourists go elsewhere

United kingdom
Brits usually browse travel websites for inspiration, but not anymore.

Patricia Yates, director of strategy and communications for Visit Britain, is concerned that the UK’s restrictions mean it is lagging behind other countries in its rush to lure tourists willing to travel again.

International tourism brought £28 billion, or $39 billion, to the UK every year in the pre-pandemic period. And this year, that number is expected to drop to just £6 billion, or $8.3 billion.

And with European countries welcoming big-budget American visitors who usually spend time in Britain, it’s possible that those looking to travel right now could skip their usual stop in London and head straight to the more welcoming countries.

“You can see countries all over the world looking at how to rebuild their tourism industry, they’re investing big and first looking at the markets they want to attract, and then how they’re reviewing their border policies to attract higher spending markets,” says Yates.

John Bevan, Vice Chairman of Dubai-based dnata Travel Group, notes that London this summer will miss the wealthy Middle Eastern visitors who usually spend the summer in the British capital.

“The Emirati community that comes and spends heavily in shops and restaurants will not exist, and the entire floors of the hotel will not be occupied by single families. They will not want to stay in a hotel quarantine for 10 days, they simply will not come, it is horrible for London,” Bevan says.

resistance begins

After months of waiting, the UK travel makers are on the move, and on June 23, five days before the next update to the traffic light list, scheduled for June 28, industry workers across the country will lobby their deputies ( Parliamentarians) and held events in London, Edinburgh and Belfast.

loosening of restrictions?

London Heathrow Airport
The easing of restrictions is likely to put an end to the current appearance of ghostly sleep at London Heathrow Airport.Credit: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

And rumors have emerged recently that the UK might consider a scheme similar to that of many European countries, which would allow fully vaccinated travelers to skip quarantine, even from an orange-list destination, from the end of July.

Jesse Norman, the financial secretary to the British Treasury, appears to confirm this, saying in an interview on Sky News that “it is under consideration … we do not want to be left behind by countries that may adopt a full vaccination approach if it is possible to do Do it safely and carefully.”

But a government spokesperson declined CNN’s request for comment.

blow to customers

United kingdom
When Brits are finally able to travel, they may find that destinations like the Maldives are getting more expensiveCredit: courtesy Hurawalhi

It may be too late, even if the restrictions are relaxed.

Le Puy-Sid is concerned that prices will rise for UK travelers.

Of course, the easing of restrictions is likely to lead to an increase in case numbers, as has already been observed in the increasing numbers since the lifting of the local lockdown.

“The government seems to be moving towards a risk-free strategy, but nothing is risk-free. Everything has a bit of risk,” says McNamara. “Aviation is not a risk-free business, but it is very well managed, and as a result it is Safest mode of transportation,” stressing: “Yes, there will be some cross-border movement, but there is no reason why we should not take a similar approach to these risks.”


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