Covid roadmap: 17 May date for resuming foreign travel could be missed

‘Don’t book a summer holiday yet,’ urges government

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Monday 05 April 2021 20:04 BST
Which way now? The west coast of Portugal
Which way now? The west coast of Portugal (Simon Calder)

Six weeks ahead of a much-anticipated recovery date for the UK’s devastated travel industry, the government has warned the public not to book foreign holidays – and said that resumption of holidays could be pushed back beyond 17 May.

Travel industry bosses have reacted furiously to the advice, which is contained in the new Roadmap Reviews: Update document – published alongside Downing Street’s briefing on Easter Monday.

The paper says: “The government advises people not to book summer holidays abroad until the picture is clearer.”

Boris Johnson’s original “roadmap” set out a plan under which foreign travel – for reuniting families and partners, as well as holidays – was expected to resume on 17 May.

But at the Downing Street briefing, the prime minister said: “We can see waves of sickness afflicting other countries.

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“I do not wish to give hostages to fortune or underestimate the difficulties being experienced in countries people might want to go to.

“The global travel taskforce is going to report later on this week. We will be then setting out before 17 May what we think is reasonable.”

The government says it “will confirm in advance whether non-essential international travel can resume on 17 May, or whether we will need to wait longer before lifting the outbound travel restriction”.

The travel industry, which was hoping to resume operations at scale in early summer, is reeling from yet another setback – and continuing uncertainty.

Heathrow airport’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said: "The opportunity has been missed to provide more certainty to reunite families separated by travel restrictions, to give sunseekers the confidence to book ahead for their summer getaway and to help businesses across the country that have had their exporting ambitions placed on hold by the pandemic.

“Now that a safe, scientifically backed process has been agreed upon, a clearer timeline for the return to international travel is needed.”

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “We understand why a cautious approach is needed, but to say nothing of any substance is hugely disappointing.”

The chief executive of the Business Travel Association, Clive Wratten, described the prime minister’s announcement as “beyond disappointing”.

He said: “We are leading the way in vaccination and science, [yet] the business travel industry continues to be crippled by today’s lack of movement.”

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “Waiting for yet another month means the sector continues to be held on ice, with tens of thousands of jobs at risk.”

Since the third lockdown began exactly three months ago, international travel for non-essential purposes has been illegal. Currently, anyone attempting to go on holiday abroad faces a £5,000 fixed penalty.

The government’s latest document confirmed that the current “traffic light” system will be formalised, with testing but not quarantine for countries in the green category. At present, the only nation with this status is Ireland.

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