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Ministers and scientists have in effect warned Britons not to place much hope in the idea of an overseas holiday this year, saying travel to almost all countries remains off-limits and hinting that the “green list” of permitted destinations is unlikely to grow quickly.
The robust stance is likely to anger Conservative backbenchers who are warning of dire consequences for the travel and aviation industries without change. One MP called the status of amber list countries “ludicrous”.
At a Downing Street press conference the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the government had been “absolutely straightforward” in that while travel to the 170 or so amber list destinations was legal, people should not do so without an urgent reason such as a funeral or serious family illness.
“We have been absolutely crystal clear that you should not go to an amber or red list country on holiday,” Hancock said when asked why his cabinet colleague George Eustice, the environment secretary, had hinted earlier in the week that people could travel simply to see friends.
Asked why it remained legal to visit amber list countries, Hancock said: “You don’t necessarily have to ban everything. But what we do know is the public have been brilliant at exercising the personal responsibility that we are seeking.”
Hancock and Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, played down the idea that the UK could reciprocate EU proposals to allow in British tourists, thus potentially expanding the green list to popular destinations such as Spain and France.
Many EU countries had high Covid infection rates and greater levels of variants of concern, notably that first identified in South Africa, Hancock said.
Van-Tam said the protection offered by vaccines was “very personalised”, and he compared overseas travel to being in the water with sharks.
“Everything is relative and the other bit of relativity is whether you’re, when you go abroad, jumping into a pond with one shark in it or jumping into a pond with 100 sharks in it, it changes the likelihood that you’re going to get bitten,” he said. “The disease levels in these different countries that are potential destinations are all very different, and some of them still have quite high levels of disease activity compared to the UK.”
Earlier, at prime minister’s questions, Boris Johnson insisted the guidance on travel to amber list countries was “very, very clear”. He told the Commons: “You should not be going to an amber list country unless for some extreme circumstance such as the serious illness of a family member. You should not be going to an amber list country on holiday.”
A group of MPs connected to the travel and aviation sectors, including the former transport secretary Chris Grayling and Henry Smith, whose Crawley constituency includes Gatwick airport, met Priti Patel, the home secretary, on Wednesday morning to ask for a loosening of the traffic light system.
They also pushed for the maximum deployment of Border Force staff to airports after longer checks on arrivals led to significant queues at Heathrow airport earlier in the week.
Other MPs are also concerned at the travel situation. One said that even when ministers seemed sympathetic, “it feels like Public Health England seems to trump everyone, including the PM”.
Another Conservative backbencher said the status of amber list countries made no sense. “Essentially, the only point of having amber is to allow a degree of nuance in perceived risk to border arrangements. And if you’re saying countries are either as safe as they can be with testing, so they’re green, or don’t travel at all, then there’s really no point in having an amber category.”
At PMQs, Keir Starmer said the government’s “confused and contradictory” statements over travel risked allowing more new variants of coronavirus into the country.
“The government has lost control of the messaging,” the Labour leader said. “So can the prime minister answer a really simple question that is at the heart of this: if he doesn’t want people to travel to amber list countries, if that’s his position, why has he made it easier to do so?”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Hancock says travel rules clear and hints at green list caution | Transport policy