While easyJet brought back two planeloads of passengers from Marrakesh to Gatwick and Manchester overnight, no further departures will take place until December at the earliest.
The Moroccan government has said the suspension is “until further notice”, and the country is also suspending flights from Germany and the Netherlands.
Shortly after the ban was announced, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, said UK Covid-19 infection levels could double – raising concerns that other countries could impose travel restrictions.
These are the key questions and answers.
Was this a surprise?
Yes. Only 10 days earlier, the director of the Moroccan National Tourist Office in the UK was saying: “We are looking forward to welcoming travellers”, while just this week easyJet launched flights from Luton to Marrakesh. But the government in Rabat was evidently alarmed by the soaring coronavirus infection rates in the UK – the highest for months, and around 60 times higher than Morocco’s numbers – and decided it would be in the nation’s best interests to ban flights.
What is the immediate effect?
The move, just three days before many schools in England and Wales break up for half term, has wrecked the plans of thousands of British travellers. The ban appears to be only on direct flights from the UK, so travel to and from Morocco via France or Spain is still possible for British travellers - but links are likely to be more expensive and more complicated.
The sudden decision has alarmed many more, who are concerned that other countries may follow suit – especially after the health secretary suggested 100,000 new infections per day were possible. The current average is around 45,000.
Are other countries likely to follow suit?
I predict we will not see immediate changes to our most popular holiday locations. British tourism generates plenty of revenue – and therefore jobs – for many nations. Making sudden changes so close to the last peak week before Christmas would damage the fortunes of many already hard-pressed tourism businesses.
Most countries are protecting themselves with a strict “JOT” policy – “Jabs Or Test,” requiring proof of full vaccination or a negative test taken shortly before arrival. Some demand both, and until half-term ends on 31 October that is likely to prevail.
And after that?
One big effect of the Moroccan move is to destabilise confidence – to bring back unhappy memories of the sudden changes that have haunted travellers, wrecking plans and increasing anxiety that things could change quickly.
But I am confident that no significant new bans of this kind will come in immediately. Other half-term holidays should be safe from such sudden rule changes.
In November, though, some countries may conclude, roughly, “We aren’t expecting much tourism from the UK anyway – let’s keep them out for a month or so until things stabilise”.
Which countries could they be?
I have compared the Covid infection figures for Monday 18 October across the UK and 10 leading destinations.
While the UK is way ahead of all of them, Bulgaria, Croatia and Ireland are at least in the same ball-park, with rates between 55 and 63 per cent of British levels.
Greece and Cyprus are some way behind at 38 and 25 per cent of UK infection rates respectively.
Other popular destinations have far lower numbers. France has 11 per cent of British rates; Portugal 10 per cent; Italy 7 per cent; while Spain, our favourite holiday nation, has 5 per cent; and Malta just 4 per cent.
Malta has been fairly active in its restrictions on British travellers; if bans take effect, the Mediterranean island might well be among them.
But I imagine the governments in Valletta and other European capitals will be looking with concern - but not yet excessive alarm - at UK numbers, and hoping they subside by Christmas.
Will the US make a U-turn on its reopening to Brits?
I predict not. The US has said the 20-month ban on arrivals from the UK (and the rest of Europe) will end next month. From 8 November fully vaccinated travellers will be allowed in.
Although no details have been revealed about testing and other requirements, it is very likely that a lateral flow test will be required in the three days before departure to the US, with another possible afterwards. This is likely to be sufficient to satisfy the health authorities.
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