Will there be any new countries on the ‘green list’ when the latest revisions are announced tomorrow? Last time around there was expected to be some kind of relaxation – yet no countries were added to the green list. Instead, Portugal was removed and several countries were added to the red list. However, media minister John Whittingdale certainly seemed to hold hope when interviewed on the Today programme this morning, saying “hopefully it will be possible to increase that number [of countries]”.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that the government will face serious difficulties if it does not allow some relaxation. The travel industry is getting restive and some bodies are holding a day of action in London today. While outbound tourism might seem primarily to benefit foreign countries, it supports large numbers of jobs in Britain. According to a report by the Travel Association in 2017, outbound tourism is worth £16 billion to the UK economy and employs 221,000 jobs in Britain. The government also faces fury from frustrated holidaymakers if, as expected, 2,500 UEFA officials and VIPs are allowed to travel to Britain without quarantining for the final of the Euros at Wembley on 11 July. Given that many people have been unable to visit family and friends abroad for the past 18 months, it will inevitably cause anger if exceptions are made for football officials.
Expect, then, a few token countries to go onto the green list. Given that countries like Finland (1.7 cases of infection per 100,000 people) and Norway (2.4) have far lower incidence of Covid than has Britain at present (6.96), there seems very little justification in forcing visitors to quarantine on return. Does the government seriously think that we are more likely to fall victim to some new Helsinki variant of Covid than to another home-bred variant?
Even if we do have a few token countries added to the green list, we are a very long way from the travel industry returning to anything like normal. The travel rules have been chopped and changed so much that no-one can book any holiday with confidence. Moreover, even for countries on the green list there remains a disincentive to travel – people still need to get tested 72 hours before they leave home, and then test again after arriving. That is one thing if you are staying in a package holiday resort, where such things can be organised en masse. It is quite another if you are an independent traveller cycling around Iceland’s ring road where the opportunities to get tested – along with all signs of human habitation – are somewhat limited. Moreover, just because our government is minded to place a country on the green list, that doesn’t mean that the country itself will be minded to admit you. As Germany has shown, other countries can and will impose bans on UK visitors if they feel like it.
Government ministers are currently indicating that most restrictions in England will go on 19 July. Yet no date has been set for the resumption of international travel – and there is no suggestion that it is remotely close. By stealth, the government has imposed an Australian-style approach – by trying to normalise life within Britain while keeping strict border controls. That is not going to help the tourism industry as it seeks to recover. Mass tourism is likely to be a lingering victim of Covid-19.