Ministers Urged To Stick To May 17 Deadline For Restarting International Travel

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Ministers are being urged to maintain the May 17 deadline for the resumption of international travel as laid out in the government’s Covid-19 roadmap.

A delay to the restart date will see airlines and airports continue to suffer, the government has been warned.

MPs on the Commons transport committee said that the initial target date of May 17 for restarting international travel should be confirmed to provide certainty for consumers and businesses.

“If the 17 May restart is delayed, airlines and airports will experience an extended period when people are not travelling, which will exacerbate the financial challenges that those businesses have faced over the past year, perhaps to critical levels,” the committee’s report said.

“The 17 May date for restarting international travel should be maintained provided that the four reopening tests that the government set out on 22 February are met.”

The call came as Spain joined other countries such as Greece, Cyprus and Portugal in indicating that it would reopen to vaccinated tourists from May.

Spain is considering the introduction of a health passport that would open the doors to those vaccinated.

Tourism minister Reyes Maroto said the country might start using the system to coincide with an international tourism fair due to take place in Madrid on May 19.

The transport committee’s report follows the new Global Travel Taskforce holding its first meeting on March 2.

“We have since heard that the taskforce will provide a report to the prime minister on 12 April 2021, rather than publishing a report to provide clarity for the aviation industry and the public,” the committee added.

It said: “The aviation industry thrives on certainty. In order to return passenger aircraft to the skies and to connect the UK to the world, a road map to restart international travel is urgently needed.

“The Department (for Transport) has not yet specified the standards that destination countries must meet on vaccine and testing capabilities in order to reopen for travel with the UK.

“In addition, it has not clarified whether such criteria will be flexible if the risk of transmission of new variants between vaccinated individuals is found to be minimal.

”The government must commit to publishing the Global Travel Taskforce report on 12 April to give consumers and industry the certainty that they need to plan for a summer 2021 restart for international travel.

“The publication of the road map should be accompanied by a statement to the House of Commons setting out next steps.”

The transport committee urged the Global Travel Taskforce report to clarify:

  • The criteria that destination countries must meet on vaccine and testing capabilities in order to reopen for travel with the UK, as well as the requirements that passengers will need to fulfil in order to travel abroad, including any relating to digital health certification;
  • when and how the current quarantine schemes will be phased out; and
  • how the government plans to support industry should variants or high levels of Covid-19 transmission affect the reopening schedule.

“It is disappointing that the timetable on the recovery plan for the aviation sector has slipped,” the transport committee added.

“The focus on the Global Travel Taskforce report for travel in summer 2021 should be the first priority. That said, the recovery plan should not slip further, and we will seek an update from the government on progress in early autumn.”

Transport secretary Grant Shapps told Times Radio on Wednesday that there were no “cast-iron guarantees” of overseas travel by a particular date, adding: “I would say that it makes sense to see how the course of the pandemic unlock proceeds. I am hopeful but, as with everything to do with this virus, you can’t say for certain.”

Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if it was too early to book a summer holiday, Shapps replied: “Yes.”

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