PM: Cautious approach to foreign travel needed to avoid influx of disease

Aine Fox and Neil Lancefield, PA

The approach to foreign travel this summer will be sensible and cautious to avoid “an influx of disease”, Boris Johnson has said.

The Prime Minister said there will be “some opening up” on May 17, but that things must be done in a way “to make sure that we don’t see the virus coming back in” to the UK.

Mr Johnson’s cautious tone came as some MPs called for restrictions on foreign holidays to be maintained to protect the country from Covid-19 variants, and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged a “careful” approach.

Mr Johnson told reporters during a campaign visit to Hartlepool: “We do want to do some opening up on May 17 but I don’t think that the people of this country want to see an influx of disease from anywhere else.

“I certainly don’t and we have got to be very, very tough, and we have got to be as cautious as we can, whilst we continue to open up.”

Asked if people should be planning foreign holidays, he told reporters: “We will be saying more as soon as we can.

“I think that there will be some openings up on the 17th, but we have got to be cautious and we have got to be sensible and we have got to make sure that we don’t see the virus coming back in.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Hartlepool on Monday
Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Hartlepool on Monday (Lindsey Parnaby/PA)

Sir Keir criticised the “chopping and changing” of the travel corridors list introduced last year and said such a situation should be avoided this holiday season.

Speaking during a campaign visit to Lewisham on Monday, the opposition leader said he will “wait and see” what the Government announces.

He told reporters: “We need to be very careful. I think it’s clear that the virus is increasing in some countries around the world, so we have to be very, very careful,” he told reporters.

“What we can’t have is a repeat of last summer, where the lists were chopping and changing on a daily or even weekly basis.”

It comes as the European Commission proposed to ease restrictions on travel to countries in the bloc amid progressing vaccination campaigns and lower infection rates.

The commission said it is proposing “to allow entry to the EU for nonessential reasons not only for all persons coming from countries with a good epidemiological situation, but also all people who have received the last recommended dose of an EU-authorised vaccine”.

It was not said which countries would be on its list, but one unnamed EU official said the UK remains a “question mark”.

One travel firm boss said there had been “great progress” in countries such as Portugal and Spain in preparing for the return of holidaymakers.

Thomas Cook chief executive Alan French told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “When the holidays proper start at the end of June, we are expecting most of the countries that the UK goes on holiday to – Europe particularly – to be open.

“We are expecting Portugal, Spain, Greece, Croatia and so forth to be open, it would be nice if Turkey was open.

“When we look at what is going on in those countries, both in terms of infection rates and how they are preparing for holidaymakers, I think there is great progress being made.”

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus has claimed the importation of new variants could “lead to further lockdowns, and inevitably, further loss of life”.

The cross-party group described airport arrival halls as “a breeding ground for infection”.

It recommended that passengers returning from green, amber and red countries under the new risk-based traffic light system do not mix.

Global Covid-19 cases and deaths
(PA Graphics)

Passengers’ documents should be checked before they enter an arrival hall, where possible, so those being transported to quarantine facilities are moved “rapidly”, the group added.

It also called for “adequate financial support” to be provided to travel firms, and for a reversal of the reduction in funding for international research projects assisting the fight against the virus.

Lucy Moreton, professional officer for the Immigration Services Union, which represents border immigration and customs staff, told a hearing held by the group last month that around 100 people are trying to enter the UK each day with “fake” certificates showing recent negative coronavirus tests.

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, claimed the “best financial support the Government can now offer the travel sector is to open up overseas travel as planned from the 17th May”, something he said can be done “safely with widespread testing”.

A Government spokesperson said there are “robust border controls” in place to stop variants and that travel can only be permitted “if it is done safely, which is why the Global Travel Taskforce has produced the traffic light system allowing us to manage the risk from imported cases by varying restrictions depending on the risk of travel from a specific location”.