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Two years ago, Easter brought warnings of traffic chaos, closed rail stations and crowded destinations, with staycationers expecting to enjoy hotter weather than those who had jetted off to Mallorca; but last year, with the four-day holiday falling in the early weeks of the first Covid-19 lockdown, no one was going anywhere.
This time, despite the first substantial easing of lockdown rules that potentially allows many to see family and friends for the first time in months, it does not look as if the traditional Easter mass getaway will reappear in 2021.
With overnight stays still banned in most of the UK, non-essential shops closed and chilly weather looming, motoring organisations are forecasting a quiet Easter.
The RAC and AA, who poll thousands of members before every bank holiday, predict a fraction of the normal leisure trips – edging over 2m on each of the busiest days, Friday and Saturday, according to the RAC. The AA says less than a third of their members expect to drive anywhere.
Visiting family is the primary reason for those who have made plans to drive – although only around one in 10 say they will definitely make the trip, the AA says, mostly on Easter Sunday.
The government’s coronavirus rules contain enough ambiguity to either encourage or deter longer trips: in England, “stay home” has been dropped, in favour of advice to “stay local” and avoid unnecessary trips. Although that does not rule out a day trip to visiting extended family in a private garden outdoors, with overnight stays still prohibited for another fortnight, many may wait.
RAC traffic spokesman Rod Dennis said: “Drivers have clearly got their eyes on Monday 12 April, which could be the day zoos, theme parks and other attractions reopen along with some accommodation. If the day does get confirmed by the government, and it coincides with fine weather, there’s every chance we could see a real rush on the roads in some parts of the country.”
For people in Scotland, all non-essential travel remains banned, although there could be more movement on Friday with the “stay home” rule giving way to “stay local”. The most freedom is in Wales, which ended its “stay local” rule last Saturday, as well as allowing families to go away overnight in self-contained accommodation. Tourists from England remain barred from crossing the border.
Only 4% of people were planning to drive to a beach or the countryside for outdoor recreation, the AA found, in polls conducted before the grim Easter weather forecast. After the hottest March day for 53 years on Tuesday, the mercury is set to tumble for the weekend – one thing that at least may feel more familiar for a British bank holiday than the heat of the last two Easters. The Met Office forecasts cooler conditions to spread across the UK for Friday, bringing unsettled weather – and for some, by Easter Sunday, even snow.
There is, of course, no escape: international leisure travel is still banned until 17 May or beyond. Most airports will operate few flights over what is usually the busiest period of the year until the summer – more than 2 million people headed abroad for Easter in 2019.
The weather forecast has though defused anxiety among rail executives over a possible repeat of overcrowding on services to the coast, after trains to Bournemouth were overrun in a heatwave last July. Network Rail will carry out a £100m programme of engineering works, but cancellations on the major long-distance routes, the east and west coast lines, should prove less disruptive than normal. Only about 20% of usual passenger numbers are travelling on Britain’s trains, with 75% of normal schedules running.
A Rail Delivery Group spokesperson said the railway expected “a slight uplift in passengers over Easter but it is expected to be very quiet”. Engineering works will affect London North Eastern Railway services between London King’s Cross and Scotland, and Avanti trains between Euston and Glasgow, including complete closure of the line between Crewe and Liverpool. Other train services will also be disrupted around Warrington and Sheffield.
Despite this quiet Easter, bank holiday traffic may not be far away. Department for Transport figures show passenger numbers rose slightly on most public transport after Covid rules were relaxed on Monday – but the biggest leap was in car use. Private car journeys are at 78% of pre-Covid levels, their highest in 2021, far ahead of the recovery in public transport. With more attractions and indoor hospitality reopening from 17 May – when overnight stays in other people’s homes will also be permitted – the late May bank holiday could see gridlock restored.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Quiet Easter expected on UK roads as Covid rules deter most from travelling | UK news