UK hasn’t given up on May 17 return of foreign travel: PM

LONDON: Britain hasn’t given up on resuming international travel on May 17, but needs to be cautious given rising Covid-19 infections in Europe, its prime minister said on Tuesday, amid pressure from hard-hit airlines to give the green light for foreign holidays.
British Airways (BA) and Virgin Atlantic both urged the government to help secure a swift recovery for the industry.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson now has to weigh up the uncertainty over whether vaccination campaigns can improve the situation in Europe this summer, against the weeks of notice the travel industry needs to restart.
“We have to be realistic… we can’t do it immediately’’, he told reporters. “But that doesn’t mean that we’ve given up on May 17’’, he said, of the country’s original reopening plan.
“We want to make things as easy as we possibly can’’, he added, when asked if fast and cheap lateral flow Covid-19 tests could replace the gold-standard PCR tests for travellers.
Covid-19 status certificates will not be required to go to a pub or restaurant in England when they first reopen, but no decisions have been taken on their use in the longer term, Johnson said.
Johnson on Monday gave the green light for England to take the next step in easing its third national lockdown since March 2020, but he gave few details on how any possible vaccine certification scheme would work.
Step 2 of a roadmap charting plans to gradually reopen the economy over coming months will see shops and pub gardens reopen next week, while the reopening of indoor hospitality venues in step 3 is scheduled for May.
Airlines are pinning their hopes on vaccinations and the government’s proposed “traffic light system” — tailoring rules to the risks in each country — to help revive travel.
“We see nothing in the data that suggests that we shouldn’t be opening up travel on the 17th of May’’, BA CEO Sean Doyle told a media briefing.
The UK government has said it will provide more details on restarting foreign travel this week after holidays were banned in the latest Covid-19 lockdown.
Speaking alongside Doyle, Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss said the rapid roll-out of vaccinations in the United States meant it should be on Britain’s “green” list of countries qualifying for lighter travel rules.
Those heading to green list countries will need to take two Covid-19 tests, but will avoid quarantine. Speaking on BBC radio, EasyJet boss Johan Lundgren said costly Covid-19 tests should not be needed for low-risk countries.
— Reuters