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Health Minister doubts travel can make a safe return by May

  • UK Government health ministers doubt Britons can holiday abroad this summer
  • Transport Secretary Grant Shapps chairs first meeting for new Global Travel Taskforce
  • British Airways introduces GBP 33 coronavirus testing kits for passengers
  • Counsellors report an uptick in domestic holiday bookings
  • Aviation industry left disappointed by lack of support for the industry in the Chancellor’s Budget

Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething delivered a massive blow to the travel industry and holidaymakers after he said he doubts large-scale events and international travel would resume this summer.

It comes as Etihad Airways reports an annual operating loss of USD 1.7BN in 2020, compared to a loss of USD 800,000 the previous year.

British Airways (BA) parent company, International Airlines Group (IAG), has also confirmed that they recorded a record loss of GBP 6.4BN (EUR 7.4BN) last year due to the impact of coronavirus restrictions and global lockdowns.

Mr Gething said he’d be thrilled if sporting events and live music concerts were able to go ahead in 2021 but said that currently scientific and medical advice suggested otherwise.

He also described the announcement made by Boris Johnson in his COVID lockdown roadmap regarding lifting all lockdown restrictions by June 21st as “optimism” rather than “data-led”.

Appearing at the Welsh government’s Health, Social Care and Sports Committee meeting, Mr Gething implied that the Prime Minister had given the British public false hope and that his lockdown exit plans had affected the public’s expectation in Wales.

Conservative MP and Under-Secretary of State for Aviation and Maritime, Robert Courts, appears to share the same view as Mr Gething and has reservations about international travel resuming as hoped on May 17th.

COVID-19 travel restrictions

Aviation Minister Robert Courts suggests travel restrictions could remain until after May

During a Transport Select Committee meeting, Aviation Minister Robert Courts said that there had been discussions over ensuring a safe return to the skies by May 17th. But international travel may resume after this date.

He went onto say that the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown pinned May 17th as a target date and not as a fixed deadline and will be data-led, implying that the only known factor is that international travel will not be allowed any earlier than then.

However, many tourism firms and airlines have planned and updated their booking calendars to restart operations on May 17th.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport also attempted some damage control by dismissing claims that international travel would restart much later than mid-May.

Global Travel Taskforce maps out a safe return for travel this summer

Many Britons have raced to book summer vacations following Boris Johnson’s COVID roadmap announcement, with Spain proving to be a popular destination.

According to the Spanish Minister for Tourism, Fernando Valdés, Spain and the UK are in discussions over introducing “green corridors” for vaccinated travellers once travel restrictions are removed – triggering a surge in Spanish holiday bookings.

The revival of the Global Travel Taskforce has also reignited hopes for overseas holidays. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps chaired a meeting with several government departments, industry bodies, transport operators and travel agencies to map out a safe return to the skies early this year.

The Global Travel Taskforce is believed to have assessed current and existing measures and developed a new risk-based framework to facilitate overseas travel, including testing and isolation methods.

The Taskforce will also be working closely with the Chancellor of Duchy of Lancaster and his review of COVID-19 vaccine passports or certificates to open the door for international travel.

On April 12th, the Global Travel Taskforce will put forward a proposal to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which the government will use to decide whether it is safe to reopen the borders on May 17th.

The UK government will consider the global and domestic epidemiological situation, whether COVID variants would become a concern if the borders reopened, the success of the global vaccine rollout and vaccine efficacy to guide their decision.

While the restart date for international travel remains uncertain, many airlines hope to resume operations by May 17th and have introduced new policies in anticipation of a summer travel boom.

 British Airways partners with COVID testing supplier

British Airways partners with COVID testing supplier, Qured

British Airways (BA) has struck a new partnership with COVID-19 testing supplier, Qured, to offer passengers the opportunity to purchase tests ahead of their flight.

According to BA, travellers can buy testing kits for GBP 33, which can be delivered to their homes ahead of departure and taken on board the flight.

BA hopes that its deal with Qured, who supply government-approved antigen kits, will remove the uncertainty surrounding where to get testing kits when abroad and make the return leg of their journey much more straightforward.

BA said the price is discounted for their passengers, with other operators charging up to GBP 100 for COVID testing kits.

Passengers should receive their results within twenty minutes and be able to download a “fit to fly” certificate to their mobile phones.

Riski Sunak Budget

Travel industry dismayed by Budget 2021 announcement

Finance experts have criticised Chancellor Rishi Sunak for disregarding the travel and tourism industry in his Budget announcement on Wednesday, March 3rd.

Although the Chancellor acknowledged that airlines, airports and travel firms were some of the hardest hit by the pandemic, finance experts said the support measures he outlined for the industry were unsubstantial.

Mr Sunak extended the VAT cut for the tourism sector until September-end and business rates relief until June. He also introduced GBP 5BN in “restart grants” for struggling firms but failed to mention any sector-specific support for travel and aviation.

It comes after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that travel and tourism firms suffered the sharpest decline in turnover than any other industry during the UK’s first lockdown.

Chief executive of The Travel Association (ABTA), Mark Tanzer, said: “We’re pleased that Rishi Sunak has extended furlough and other schemes, but given that overseas travel is still closed, the sector should qualify for higher levels of support.”

While the measures introduced will provide travel and tourism firms with an extra cushion as restrictions wind down and travel resumes, thousands of businesses are excluded from the support.

Mr Tanzer said: “We urge the UK government to make the restart grants available to all travel businesses, not just those with retail premises, recognising that the reopening of overseas travel will come later than the other sectors and will likely to be gradual.”

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