Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key travel issue – and what it means for you.
Risk and travel have never been more closely entwined in the public and political consciousness as over the past year. But the arguments about the dangers of allowing people to travel abroad remain polarised. The government’s Global Travel Taskforce report is subtitled “The safe return of international travel,” carrying the implication that the risk from coronavirus can be managed down to zero.
Conversely, the airlines’ group, Iata, insisted flatly as long ago as December: “International travel is safe.”
In travel, as in life, there is no way to eliminate risk. So it was refreshing to hear the boss of Britain’s biggest budget airline acknowledge the human cost of unlocking travel to and from southern Europe this summer.
On Thursday, Johan Lundgren, chief executive of easyJet, presented the results of a research project on the effects of adding most European countries to the UK government’s “green list” – the nations from which returning travellers will not be quarantined. The Yale School of Public Health study predicted that such a move would lead to the hospitalisation of six additional people in the UK every day.
How do you feel about that? You might simply dispute the research, but let us assume for the moment that it is an accurate forecast.
Is it fair that tens of thousands of us might travel abroad each day this summer, to Spain, France, Italy and Greece, if the effect is to make six people so ill that they are taken to hospital and use precious NHS resources?
“NO!” said Roger Reeves, in response to my question on social media. He evidently believes that the current average of daily admissions, 145, is more than enough.
“Yes,” said Jill Stevens. “Because life just has to go on.”
Daniel Ferney concurred: “I’d rather live my life with a really, really, really tiny risk of Covid than stay locked in and live in fear.”
The issue involves much more than your holiday and mine, Sarah Watkins reminded us. “An entire industry is at breaking point almost, with hundreds of thousands of jobs reliant on it.” But a travel agent, Michelle Murphy, deplored the fact that I had asked the question, saying: “That’s just stirring up hatred for travel again.”
The intention was to stimulate discussion on a crucial issue. John Moir brought it home: “Depends if you’re one of the six, or your family is, doesn’t it, Simon?”
International travel enabled coronavirus to spread across the world at terrifying speed; the prospect of even one more person ending up in hospital as a direct result of trips abroad is awful. But increased risk is an inevitable consequence of opening up society, from pubs to workplaces. And the cost of maintaining what is essentially a travel ban is much more than missing a bit of sunshine.
Many people need the anticipation of an escape from the miseries of the past year, and the chance to relax and recharge. More pressing still is the plight of those who have been separated from loved ones, families or partners, for a year or more, and are desperate to be reunited.
We have finite lives.
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