“Incredibly short-sighted” to open up international travel given airport queues and Indian variant concerns

The government has been accused of being “incredibly short-sighted” for confirming plans to reopen international travel, despite concerns about passengers mixing in airport queues and a sharp rise in cases of the Indian variant.

It comes after evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus highlighted the significant flaw in the government’s traffic light system, which currently allows people arriving from ‘red’ countries hosting variants of concern to mix with those arriving from green list countries in overcrowded arrival halls.  

The  APPG on Coronavirus published a report earlier this week calling on the government to discourage overseas holidays while providing financial support to the travel industry, to reduce risk of new Covid variants fuelling a third wave. The report also demanded urgent measures to reduce overcrowding at airports, separate out passengers arriving from red list countries and improve the detection of fake Covid test certificates. 

Speaking at an APPG evidence session on Tuesday this week, a representative of the Airport Operators’ Association warned that some airports were seeing “queues out onto the tarmac”.  He called on the government to urgently digitise passenger locator forms to enable arrivals at UK airports to use e-gates and reduce long queues, describing the current deadline of autumn as “preposterous”.

Layla Moran MP, Chair of the APPG on Coronavirus, said:

“It is incredibly short-sighted for the government to be giving the green light to overseas holidays on the same day that serious concerns about the Indian variant have been confirmed.

“We know that international travel and variants pose the biggest risk to our hard-won progress against Covid-19. We cannot allow farcical scenes to continue in which those arriving from red list countries are mixing with others in overcrowded arrival halls, potentially allowing dangerous variants to spread.

“The government must rethink its flawed approach and discourage overseas holidays while providing proper financial support to the travel industry. This will give time to introduce the measures needed for airports to cope with additional demand and reduce the health risks posed to passengers and staff.” 

ENDS

Press contact: Paul Haydon, [email protected] , 07988395025

Notes to Editors

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus is conducting a cross-party parliamentary inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic and has so far held over 20 hearings and made over 40 recommendations. Earlier this week the APPG published a report on international travel and Covid variants, calling on the government to discourage overseas holidays while providing financial support to the travel industry.

The APPG held an evidence session on Tuesday 4 May on Covid passports, with evidence from witnesses including the Airports Operators’ Association. A transcript of the session is available here and video recording here.

 

Speaking at the evidence session, Henk van Klaveren, Head of Public Affairs at the Airport Operators Association, said: “We see queues out on to the tarmac in certain airports because the Border Force is simply not able to cope with the limited resources that they are putting at the border and the lack of e-passport gates. They need to staff every desk, open every e-gate in order to allow this to happen. To do that they need to digitise the Passport Locator Form and the test result better. They are working on that, but it is a slow process. They’re aiming to have the e-gate upgrade that is necessary to allow this digitalisation to happen completed by the Autumn. And the autumn is a preposterous deadline. It needs to be before the summer and but that is a real significant challenge given the resource available and the process required to be able to do this.”

Cases of the B1617.2 Indian variant have more than doubled to 520 over the past week, figures published today by Public Health England (PHE) have revealed, with almost half the cases are related to travel or contact with a traveller. The strain was also designated a “variant of concern” today.