Overseas Travel

Travel Firm TUI Joins Airlines Suing the Government Over “Traffic Light” Travel System

Pressure is mounting on the Government to ease restrictions on overseas travel, with the travel firm TUI joining the list of airlines raising legal concerns about “inexplicable” and “shambolic” decision-making. Sky News has the story.

The travel giant said it was “inexplicable” that ministers decided to put Portugal on its “Amber List” last month – and not move the Greek and Balearic Islands, which have low Covid rates, on to the “Green List”.

Speaking at the Travel Matters conference on Tuesday, travel association ABTA also said it was considering joining TUI, Virgin Atlantic, Ryanair, British Airways’s parent group IAG, and the Manchester Airport Group in taking legal action against the Government.

Last week Ryanair Chief Executive Michael O’ Leary described the Government’s international travel policy as a “shambles” and announced legal action along with a number of partners.

Andrew Flintham, TUI Managing Director, accused the Government of not listening to the industry’s needs after Aviation Minister Robert Courts failed to turn up to the conference due to a “diary clash”.

“It is incredibly disappointing that the aviation minister didn’t come to speak with us all today,” he said.

“There is no doubt the Government needs to hear what we have to say as an industry and this once again feels like a sign they’re not.”

Worth reading in full.

Freeing Up Overseas Travel in Coming Months “Difficult”, Says Matt Hancock

Unmoved by the discovery that fewer than one in 200 travellers from “Amber List” countries are testing positive for Covid when back in Britain, the Health Secretary says that it will be “difficult” to free up international travel over the coming months. The Government is concerned that relaxing travel restrictions could undo the success of the vaccine roll-out.

While the MailOnline reports that fully vaccinated Brits could be exempted from quarantine rules linked to Amber List countries from August (despite Matt Hancock saying that the move is not currently “clinically advised”), it seems unlikely that the number of countries on the “Green List”, which frees all travellers from the requirement to self-isolate, will increase much in the near future.

The Independent has more.

At present, the only viable holiday destinations from which quarantine is not required are Gibraltar and Iceland. Many other locations have far lower rates of coronavirus than the U.K., and the travel industry is calling for a rapid expansion of the… “Green List”.

The next review is due on Thursday, with Malta, Italy, Morocco and Spain’s Balearic islands all candidates for moving from the Amber List to Green…

On Sky News, Matt Hancock said the vaccine programme had freed up “a huge number of the restrictions here at home”. But he warned: “It is more difficult freeing up international travel.

“We have one of the tightest border control systems in the world and we have that because we want to protect this amazing progress we’ve made at home with the vaccination programme…

“We’ll get there when it’s safe to do so.”

The travel industry is staging a day of action at Westminster on Wednesday, calling for fewer restrictions on going abroad and financial support for agents, operators and airlines.

Worth reading in full.

Fewer Than 1 in 200 Travellers From “Amber List” Countries Are Testing Positive for Covid

Thousands of holidays have been ruined by the Government placing countries – most recently, Portugal – on its travel “Amber List”, forcing travellers who didn’t cancel their plans to fork out for at least two PCR tests and to quarantine for 10 days upon their return. But new data shows that fewer than one in 200 travellers from Amber List countries are testing positive when back in Britain. This discovery has led to more calls for restrictions to be eased before more harm is done to the already battered travel industry. The Times has more.

An analysis of the latest figures from NHS Test and Trace, which are updated every three weeks, also shows no “variants of concern” were detected from any passenger returning from one of the 167 countries on the Amber List.

Only 89 of 23,465 passengers who travelled to the U.K. from these destinations between May 20th and June 9th tested positive for the coronavirus – a rate of 0.4%. There were no positive cases from 151 of these countries…

Nobody travelling from countries on the quarantine-free “Green List” – which includes 11 destinations at present – tested positive during the same period and there were no variants of concern found.

Last night Conservative MPs and travel experts said the data revealed that the border restrictions were too strict as they increased pressure on ministers to significantly expand the green list when they meet on Thursday.

They also said the data strengthened the case for allowing travellers who have had both jabs to be exempt from quarantine, a policy which a senior cabinet minister has appeared to support…

Sir Graham Brady, Chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs, said it was time ministers started to take advantage of Britain’s successful vaccine programme.

“Vaccination and testing are making international travel safer just as surely as they make things safer within our borders,” he said. “It’s time British people were able to reap the benefits of the vaccines and for us to get the travel industry moving again.”

Any easing of restrictions is likely to focus on those vaccinated against Covid (possibly just on those who have had both doses of a vaccine), leaving those who – for medical or other personal reasons – have not been vaccinated stuck at home.

Worth reading in full.

NHS App Gains 2.7 Million Users Following Addition of Vaccine Passport

Almost three million people have signed up to the NHS app since the addition of the “NHS Covid Pass” section, showing a user’s vaccine status, as well as recent test results. The Guardian has the story.

The app, separate from the NHS Covid app, began enabling people to show proof that they had received the vaccine from May 17th, in order to travel internationally or attend sporting events, such as Wimbledon and Euro 2020 matches. The app already had other functions in order to access medical services, such as booking GP appointments.

Between May 17th and June 14th, almost five million distinct users logged on to the app, with the Department of Health and Social Care stating that more than six million users had been reached in total.

The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “Technology undoubtedly plays a huge role in how we deliver healthcare now and in the future and it is great to see so many people downloading, using and benefiting from the NHS app.

“It is vital we embrace the momentum we have built-in using technology and innovation in the health and care sector over the last year as we look beyond the pandemic to improve treatment, care and the experiences of patients.”

While the Gov.uk website mentions only that the app allows users to show their vaccine status “if required for international travel”, the Chief Executive of NHSX (the digital arm of the health service) says: “It has been good to see it used to open up sporting events, facilitate travel, and encourage the use of NHS services online.” Last month, a senior Whitehall figure said it is “almost certain” that vaccine passports will be required in domestic settings, such as for events of more than 1,000 people.

The Guardian report is worth reading in full.

U.K. Airport Passenger Numbers Drop 75% In 2020

The number of passengers travelling through U.K. airports fell by 223 million in 2020 because of travel restrictions, a decline of 75% from 2019. The Guardian has the story.

About 74 million people passed through U.K. airports in 2020, less than a quarter of the 297 million recorded in 2019, according to PA Media’s analysis of annual Civil Aviation Authority data.

The Airport Operators Association (AOA) said the figures demonstrated the devastating impact of the virus on aviation.

Cardiff airport suffered the largest drop in passenger numbers at 86.7%, followed by Glasgow Prestwick at 85.8% and Exeter at 85.5%.

The figure for Southampton fell by 83.4%, London City by 82.3% and Leeds Bradford by 81.2%.

Heathrow, the U.K.’s largest airport, recorded a 72.7% decline from 80.9 million passengers in 2019 to 22.1 million last year. The figures include all passengers who travelled through British airports excluding the Channel Islands or Isle of Man.

Demand for air travel collapsed in March 2020 when the U.K. went into its first national lockdown, mirroring lockdowns elsewhere and forcing airlines around the world to ground their planes.

Travel began to recover by late summer and into the autumn, but passenger numbers plummeted again in November after many restrictions were reimposed in the U.K. as it faced a second wave of the virus.

Karen Dee, the AOA’s Chief Executive, said: “These figures lay bare the devastating impact Covid has had on U.K. airports. With passengers down nearly 90% between April and December 2020, airports’ economic output was decimated and significant numbers of jobs were lost.”

She said the Government’s “overly cautious” approach to reopening travel meant this summer would be “as bad, if not worse, than 2020”. U.K. airports will lose at least another £2.6 billion in revenues this summer, following a similar loss between April and September 2020, the AOA estimates.

Dee said: “This leaves U.K. airports trailing behind international competitors in the E.U. and U.S., who not only received significantly more financial support from their governments but are also now able to restart travel over the summer.”

Worth reading in full.

Chaos as Tourists Scramble to Return to Britain Before Portugal is Demoted to the “Amber List”

There are reports of chaos in Portugal as Brits make a dash to book PCR tests and flights home before the country they were hoping to spend more time in is demoted to the Government’s “Amber List” on Tuesday at 4am. The MailOnline has the story.

Cabinet ministers destroyed the holiday plans of millions of families after abruptly downgrading Portugal from green to amber status on its travel list, citing fears over the so-called Nepal variant – even though just one case of the strain was detected in Portugal when the decision was announced on Thursday.

The move instantly wiped £2 billion off the value of airlines, while furious travel chiefs warned that it risked creating a jobs bloodbath and further wrecking a sector already devastated by successive lockdowns. 

Passengers have until 4am tomorrow to return to the U.K. or quarantine for 10 days, and must have proof of a negative PCR test taken no more than three days before their departure or face a £500. However, testing centres in Portugal were reportedly overwhelmed by the spike in demand.

There are an estimated 112,000 Britons currently in Portugal and airlines have been laying on extra flights or larger aircraft to get people home. Some 100 flights departed Faro on Saturday and there were lengthy queues snaking around the building of passengers trying to leave yesterday.

Speaking to the BBC this morning, vaccine centre volunteer Angela Mantana said she got news of the sudden decision just one day after getting to Portugal and now has to quarantine for 10 days at home because she was unable to get PCR tests or “suitable” flights back to the East Midlands. It means she cannot provide jabs at her local centre, or provide her aunt – who is shielding – her daily medication…

Another British traveller, Mike Indian described “chaotic” scenes at Faro Airport and having to push past other travellers after officials told him he would need to run to make his flight to London Luton. He told Radio 4’s Today programme he managed to board the plane with just five minutes to spare. 

Some 20,000 passengers departing from Faro at the weekend had to pay exorbitant prices to buy PCR tests so they can fly back from Portugal ahead of the 10-day quarantine deadline…

And testing labs are facing an “overwhelming” surge in demand for PCR testing which is causing holidaymakers to miss flights as test results are delayed or lost. According to Ross Tomkins, Managing Director of PCR test provider Salutaris People, testing capacity is on the “verge of collapse”. …

Yet official data now shows that just 1.5% of British travellers tested positive for coronavirus over two weeks in a sample – just three positive cases spotted out of 200 people coming from Portugal in mid-May.

Worth reading in full.

Foreign Fans Visiting Britain for Euro 2020 Games Will Not Be Exempt From Travel Rules

There are currently no plans for foreign fans visiting Britain for Euro 2020 games to be exempt from travel restrictions, meaning those coming from countries on the Government’s “Amber List” will have to quarantine for 10 days. The Mail has the story.

Tournament Director Martin Kallen revealed on Friday that talks between UEFA and the Government were ongoing to allow those key matches to be attended by foreign spectators without the need for a lengthy quarantine period.

But a Government spokesperson said: “Overseas ticket holders will be able to watch Euro 2020 matches at Wembley but will be subject to travel restrictions and requirements in England and at their place of origin, including testing and quarantining. There are no plans to change travel exemptions for ticket holders.

“We continue to work very closely with the FA and UEFA to support a fantastic Euros and to communicate the latest travel guidance to fans. We will keep this under review over the course of the tournament.”

Wembley will host the semi-finals and the final along with two last-16 matches.

The U.K. has the toughest entry requirements of any of the host countries, requiring visitors from Amber List countries to quarantine for 10 days on arrival.

Travel between the other host nations – particularly other European Union countries – is largely possible with proof of a recent negative PCR test.

Kallen said: “We are in a dialogue with the Government, we are looking at what’s possible.

“The Prime Minister and the British Government said June 21st would be the date when in principle everything should go back to normal. And if it goes back to normal, what will the rules say for foreigners to come to the U.K. who are not on a business trip?

“We are in a dialogue and we hope that we can achieve something if the situation allows it, that something could happen on that side.” …

Government sources had previously said it was unlikely that the current restrictions will be eased at any stage of the tournament with the country at such a decisive stage of its unlocking programme. 

Worth reading in full.

France Will “Welcome” British Tourists from June 9th – but with a Long List of Terms and Conditions

“Now for some good news,” says the MailOnline, as restrictions on British travel into France will ease from June 9th. But it’s not all roses. Brits who aren’t fully vaccinated will need a “compelling reason” to visit the country and will be required to quarantine for seven days if granted entry. The MailOnline has more.

Tourists will have to use the French Government’s “Pass Sanitaire” – a digital document to which proof of negative test or vaccination can be uploaded.

The Pass Sanitaire is currently required for all travellers over the age of 11 – however the French Government says that a negative test will be accepted for children in place of vaccination without specifying an age from which this applies.  

That will be a blow for any families wishing to head for sunnier climes in France because older children in their teens and early 20s are unlikely to receive both doses of a vaccine before the end of summer. 

And there are currently no plans to vaccinate U.K. teenagers, with the British Government prioritising second doses for more vulnerable age groups.

The border opening on June 9th will also allow E.U. passport holders in without any proof of testing at all. 

The relaxation in requirements comes as Britain itself clamps down on travel abroad, with the removal of Portugal from the Green List of approved destinations yesterday unleashing chaos and a wave of cancelled bookings.

France is on the U.K. Amber List, meaning that Britons must quarantine for 10 days on their return and take two Covid tests, as well as testing negative before they depart for France. 

The  British list of approved destinations is due to be reviewed every three weeks.

Worth reading in full.

Portugal Axed from “Green List”

Portugal is due to be removed from the Government’s “Green List”, being placed on the “Amber List” from next Tuesday. It seems completely incomprehensible, given that the British Government just allowed 16,500 English football fans to travel there en masse to watch last week’s Champions League final. The Telegraph has the story.

Portugal is set to be axed from the U.K.’s green list, forcing thousands of British holidaymakers to cancel their trips or cut short their breaks to avoid quarantine.

Ministers are understood to have decided on Thursday morning to add Portugal to the amber list from next Tuesday at 4am after tests revealed what are believed to be previously-unknown variants of Covid. It will mean anyone returning from Portugal after then will have to quarantine for 10 days and take at least two PCR tests.

Sources said ministers had decided that with just weeks to go to the lifting of the final Covid restrictions on June 21, they should “not do anything that jeopardises further unlocking at this point.”

In another report, the Telegraph speculates that cases could be rising in Portugal due to – you guessed it – the British Government’s decision to allow English football fans to attend the Champions League final in Porto.

Two events have served to spark new concerns over rising infection rates in Portugal – and both involved football.

The celebrations for Lisbon’s Sporting Clube de Portugal title win saw thousands of fans gather in a cavalcade before moving into the city centre, many maskless, with few socially distancing and most singing.

It has been linked by experts to a surge in cases in the capital that saw the city centre placed on alert last week, with more than 120 cases per 100,000 people per fortnight.

The second involved the 16,500 English fans who arrived in Porto at the weekend to see Chelsea’s 1-0 victory over Manchester City in the Champions League final. Thousands were pictured ignoring social distancing rules and wearing face masks as they thronged in bars by the Douro river.

The regional health authority for the Porto area said those who were in or near fan zones at the weekend should “reduce contacts over the next two weeks” and look out for Covid symptoms.  

Worth reading in full.

What makes this decision so odd is that cases don’t appear to be rising in Portugal – at least, hardly at all.

Stop Press: No countries have been added to the “Green List” today. MailOnline has more.

Holidaymakers Missing Return Flights Because of Delays by Covid Test Provider

British holidaymakers have complained of missing return flights because of long delays by a Government-approved Covid test provider. Various Government departments have attempted to pass the buck for resolving the matter, with the Department of Health concluding that the provider will be removed from the Government’s website if it continues failing to meet certain standards. The Sun has the story.

Qured promises users a “fit-to-fly” certificate within 30 to 40 minutes of receiving a negative test done via a video call.

But customers tell of hours of delays, making them miss return flights.

Others have complained that the firm’s £39 test kits were not delivered to their homes on time before they were due to fly out – meaning they could not leave.

One said of trying to get home: “Almost 24 hours later and no fit-to-fly certificate, despite a negative result in 20 minutes.”

The holidaymaker takes the test while on a video call to Qured and emails a picture of the result.

Confirmation is due back in the form of an official medical certificate, meaning they are fit to fly…

Qured said: “While the timings of delivery and results are generally accurate, they are subject to change due to circumstances out of our control.”

The Foreign Office said it was an issue for the Department for Transport.

The Department for Transport said it was an issue for the Department of Health.

The Department of Health said: “If a provider is failing to meet required standards, they get a five-day warning and are then removed from the gov.uk list.”

Qured is rated 2.4 out of five on Google Reviews and has received a good deal of criticism in recent days. One user commented on Friday: “I [am] deeply distressed and concerned. I did my online Covid test at 2:15 today (Friday) to enable me to return back to the U.K. on Saturday. I have not had my results back (this was now over 10 hours ago). My account does not show that the test has been undertaken let alone provide me with the ability to download my certificate to fly. Without this, I cannot book into my flight and am at risk of missing my flight altogether.” Another said: “If they can’t handle the volume of tests then they shouldn’t book so many appointments. This is really not acceptable.” Similar reviews can be found on Trustpilot, despite the firm having an average rating of 3.4 out of five.

The Government’s list of Covid test providers – which still features this firm – was last updated on May 28th.

The Sun report is worth reading in full.