When Can UK Tourists Travel to Europe
Optimism for the UK economy was restored last week as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed his roadmap for bringing the UK out of its third national lockdown. The plan detailed a gradual reopening of the UK economy, from the opening of non-essential businesses in April with the aim to lift all restrictions in June.
The plan appeared to provide a boost to the British pound (GBP) as it rallied against the US dollar (USD) and euro (EUR) before the currency pairings ran out of steam towards the end of the trading week. Currently, the pound to US dollar (GBP/USD) exchange rate stands at USD 1.39 whilst the pound to euro exchange rate remains just under EUR 1.16.
Whilst Mr Johnson’s plan provided some much-needed positivity for the UK’s economic recovery, there remains great uncertainty as to when UK tourists can begin travelling abroad, particularly across Europe.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has halted plans on reopening Europe’s borders to UK travellers, due to a mixture of the EU’s slow response to administering vaccines and the rise of COVID-19 variants.
EU leaders have discussed the option of vaccine passports to help tourists travel abroad this summer. Individuals who have received the coronavirus vaccine could have the option to prove they have been vaccinated, possibly via a passport feature on the NHS app.
The idea, however, has been met with intense backlash, with many saying that a vaccine passport could encourage discrimination amongst those who have not been immunised. A petition against the proposal has received over 200,000 signatures and will, therefore, be debated in parliament.
Different countries within the EU appear to have varying views on the requirements for allowing tourists in the country, with some wanting an EU wide vaccine certificate rather than a country specific certificate. Greece, for example, has said that they would consider allowing unvaccinated individuals into the country, so long as they present a negative covid test before travelling.
Angela Merkel, however, believes that it needs to be clearer whether vaccinated individuals are no longer infectious. “As long as the number of those who have been vaccinated is still so much smaller than the number who are waiting for vaccination, the state should not treat the two groups differently” she said. Despite the differences in opinions, Ms Merkel also stated that a travel plan should be in place by the summer.
Coronavirus strains remain a concern
A number of new coronavirus strains have spread across the UK in recent months, which has posed a threat to the UK’s pandemic recovery and outlook. New strains include a Brazilian, South African, UK and B1.525 variant. Symptoms across all variants appear to be consistent; a cough, high temperature and loss of smell and taste, though further research is being conducted to find out more about the strains.
The UK variant is known as B.1.1.7 and was first exposed in Kent during September 2020. Whilst much about the variant remains unknown, it’s thought that the UK strain results in a higher chance of hospitalisation.
The South African strain is known as B.1.351 and contains similar mutations to those found in the UK and Brazilian variant. Whilst not thought to be any more lethal than the original virus, the South African strain appears to be more contagious.
The Brazilian variant of coronavirus is known as P.1, though it’s thought not to be as prominent in the UK as the other strains.
The B1.525 variant was discovered by the University of Edinburgh, though it’s currently uncertain as to where this strain of the virus originated from, as well as the deadliness of the variant.
Scientists are also unsure as to how effective the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines will be against these new variants of coronavirus, hence the cautiousness of UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown.
How severe are the new COVID-19 strains?
According to UK health experts and medical officers, no evidence shows that the new COVID strains are deadlier than SARS-CoV-2 (the globally dominant mutation of the virus.)
However, it seems that all new coronavirus variants are more contagious than the original virus, due to their rapid spread across the UK.
According to scientists, the new B.1.1.7 strain is approximately 70% more infectious than other COVID-19 variants and most likely emerged in a UK patient with a weak immune system or someone travelling to Britain from a foreign country.
While no evidence suggests it is more lethal than other strains, increased transmissions will increase the pressure on the NHS, so the new mutation is being monitored closely.
There is also the risk that the current vaccines being produced and deployed will not work against this version of the virus. John Hardy, Head of FX Strategy at Saxo Bank, said: “At the very least, it makes any level of activity normalisation that much more difficult until vaccinations are sufficiently rolled out.”
Dr Rochelle Walensky, head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that COVID-19 variants could cause a real threat to the progress of coronavirus vaccines.
Dr Walensky believes that the rapid spread of the B.1.1.7 variant had the potential to create a fourth wave of the virus across the US, as it looks to be the most dominant variant within the country.
Whilst COVID-19 variants remain a concern, new daily recorded cases within both the UK and US have been dramatically declining since the introduction of vaccines, which is providing optimism for economic recovery.