The inclusion of countries with restrictions on arrivals in the government’s list of destinations exempt from UK quarantine restrictions was at the request of airlines, aviation sources have revealed.
The government gave the go-ahead for travel to restart from England from Friday July 10 with publication of the list of destinations and relaxation of Foreign Office advice against all but essential travel.
But discrepancies between the Department for Transport’s ‘Covid travel list’ of destinations and the Foreign Office list, and the fact that restriction-free travel will only be possible to 25 countries, has caused fears of widespread confusion.
However, aviation sources say the inclusion of destinations with restrictions on arrivals was at the industry’s request and suggest the confusion will present the travel trade with an essential role.
Industry figures have also complained at the failure of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to follow Westminster’s lead, and that the promised ‘traffic light’ ranking of countries was not apparent.
A senior airline source conceded “it’s not lined up”, but explained: “The ‘corridors’ list is based on the risk of re-introducing Covid-19 to the UK. The Foreign Office list takes account of other factors – that it’s safe [to travel] not that it’s easier.
“The government is saying it’s passengers’ and airlines’ responsibility to look at the restrictions [in destinations]. Hopefully, the travel trade can feed into that.
“The trade needs to make this clear to people. We don’t want people being sold the wrong thing.”
The source suggested the government had “taken on board” the need to cross reference the Foreign Office and quarantine-exemption lists.
But referring to the inclusion of countries with restrictions on arrivals, the source insisted: “We’re not critical of that. The industry asked for that. It would be time consuming to have bilateral agreements. It’s better than only having a list where you can travel in both directions. Our focus is to make it clearer to communicate.
“We’re happy there are a good number of countries. Now we’re looking for a solution to allow transit [passengers]. But it’s important we’ve got to where we are.
“It’s all heading in the right direction, but it’s a long, slow haul.”
A second aviation source agreed: “It’s a good list. Not getting the devolved nations on board was a blow and undermines the messaging that it’s safe to fly. But Westminster was in a bind, under pressure from us to get this out.
“All the signs point to Wales and Northern Ireland coming on board. Scotland is still flexing a bit. That is more political than health related. Scotland has been two weeks behind England throughout.”
The source added:“The traffic light system is in place. All the countries on the list are green or amber – the government just decided a list would be clearer.
“Amber countries have a higher rate of infection but the risk is judged as similar [to green] because similar measures are in place.
“The next thing will be getting ‘red’ countries into a testing regime.”
That would allow arrivals from countries such as the US.
The source said: “Our ideal would be passengers take a test before departure. We would run into all sorts of difficulties with testing on arrival. Airports are space constrained and you have to keep people waiting. If the government won’t pay for it, passengers would have to.”
However, tests could cost as much as £150.
The airline source noted: “If testing can work at scale, it could be useful in opening other markets. [But] it’s costly and takes time.”
The next review of the restrictions will be on July 27.
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