Heathrow will be out of bounds for most
Heathrow will be out of bounds for most

Coronavirus: UK advises against all foreign travel in an unprecedented blow to tourism industry

Impetus for government’s move was that British travellers could be unwittingly trapped by the increasing rush of international border closures

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 17 March 2020 15:12
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All holidays are off, for at least a month: that is the effect of the advice from the Foreign Office “against all non-essential travel worldwide”.

At least a million anxious travellers with package holidays booked in the next 30 days will feel greatly relieved that they can claim full refunds.

But the unprecedented announcement has caused yet more grief for an industry that, in less than a month, has degenerated from a state of robust good health to needing urgent life support.

The worldwide advice became inevitable after Boris Johnson warned on Monday night against “non-essential travel”.

Dozens of holidaymakers booked to depart in the next few days contacted The Independent to express deep concern that their travel firms were expecting them to continue with their travel plans, despite the prime minister’s apparently contradictory call to restrict tourism.

The impetus for the government’s move was not because of the fears that British travellers will be at exceptional risk abroad – but that they could be unwittingly trapped by the increasing rush of international border closures across the world.

The Foreign Office issues advice rather than instructions: any British traveller could ignore it and take one of the hundreds of flights from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and other British airports that are still operating each day.

But standard travel insurance policies are invalidated if the individual goes against official advice – which now includes every destination outside the UK.

Besides cancelling travel plans, the Foreign Office advice also has the effect of signalling to British citizens on holiday abroad to return home.

While a collective rush to the nearest airport would be counterproductive in terms of health – because of the risk of cross-infection between travellers – anyone beside the beach in Thailand or the Caribbean should sound out their travel insurer before choosing to spend an extra week in the sun.

The World Health Organisation has long warned that border restrictions are futile once person-to-person transmission within a country begins. It says: “Travel bans to affected areas or denial of entry to passengers coming from affected areas are usually not effective in preventing the importation of cases but may have a significant economic and social impact.”

The move comes at exactly the time when the travel industry normally begins to expand – with Easter family holidays adding to late skiing trips and city breaks. It will lead to an effective shutdown of at least 90 per cent of the outbound industry, and will jeopardise hundreds of thousands of jobs – from travel agents and airport staff to airline employees and hotel workers.

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