Aviation bosses today lashed out at Boris Johnson‘s traffic light scheme for resuming international travel as they warned requiring travellers from ‘green list’ countries to be tested twice will price many people out of holidays abroad.
The new traffic light scheme will see countries rated green, amber or red using criteria including vaccination levels, case numbers and the prevalence of coronavirus variants.
Travellers returning from countries rated ‘green’ will not be required to self-isolate, although pre-departure and post-arrival tests will still be needed.
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren said the testing requirement should be ditched because if countries have cases under control and have extensive vaccination programmes then ‘green is green’.
He said paying for laboratory-based PCR tests would cost ‘way over and above what the cost is of an average easyJet fare’ which would result in only opening up international travel ‘for people who can afford it’.
He said that would not be ‘fair’ or ‘right’ as he also questioned whether the approach was backed up by science.
Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss echoed a similar sentiment as he said: ‘We can’t have a prohibitively expensive testing system that puts businesses, people and families off travelling.’
The comments came after Mr Johnson said he is ‘hopeful’ of resuming some non-essential foreign travel from May 17 but refused to give a firm commitment to the roadmap date.
The Government’s traffic light system for resuming international travel will assess countries on criteria like vaccination rates and coronavirus case numbers. Using those criteria, countries like the US and the UAE could be given ‘green’ status
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren today hit out at Boris Johnson’s traffic light system for resuming international travel
Mr Johnson’s system will see British travellers going to ‘green list’ countries required to take two Covid tests
Under the Government’s scheme, sunseekers returning from countries in the green category will not have to isolate, although they will need to have tests before and after they fly.
Those coming back from red list countries would have to quarantine in a hotel for ten days, while arrivals from amber destinations will have to isolate at home.
Travellers returning to the UK are currently required to take a PCR test prior to departure.
The Telegraph reported that the traffic light scheme would likely require travellers to ‘green list’ countries to take a PCR test prior to departure and potentially a cheaper lateral flow test on arrival back in the UK.
However, this approach could leave a family of four with children over the age of 11 facing a testing bill of £400, over and above the cost of the holiday.
Mr Lundgren told BBC Breakfast this morning that if countries meet the criteria for ‘green’ status then there should not be an expensive testing requirement.
He said: ‘There needs to be acceptable levels of rates of vaccination in the population, there needs to be controlled levels of also the infections in itself and also then low prevalence of variants of concern.
‘Clearly, if you have ticked those boxes then green is green, there should not be a need to put in more complexities and cost in order to travel to and from those destinations.
‘But what the Government came up with yesterday was that they were looking to introduce a two test system which means that even in those green countries, those green category of destinations, you would still then need to have on and take on additional costs to do so.
‘If the Government was choosing to take one of those PCR tests which is a cost way over and above what the cost is of an average Easyjet fare as an example, you wouldn’t open up international travel for everyone, you would open up international travel for people who can afford it.
‘I don’t think that is fair, I don’t think it is right and I don’t think it is really necessarily established from a medical and scientific point of view that it is the right thing to do.
‘If they choose however to go down that route to have the testing in place, it should be the same type of testing, the lateral flow testing which is much cheaper, more accessible and is being used to open up the domestic sectors as an example.’
Mr Weiss said the traffic light system should work towards enabling people to return from ‘green’ countries without the need for coronavirus tests.
He said: ‘We can’t have a prohibitively expensive testing system that puts businesses, people and families off travelling.
‘Passengers travelling to and from ‘green’ countries should be able to do so freely, without testing or quarantine at all, and vaccinated passengers travelling to and from ‘amber’ countries should not face testing or quarantine.
‘Other than for ‘red’ countries, we do not believe quarantine is the answer for controlling the spread of the virus.’
Mr Weiss suggested that based on the Government’s traffic light criteria, destinations including the US, Israel and the Caribbean should all be on the ‘green list’ from May 17.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said the United Arab Emirates could be included as ‘they also have very high levels of vaccination’, adding: ‘There are plenty of long-haul countries which have low Covid levels, and many of them have high vaccination levels also.’
Mr Johnson yesterday refused to commit to his roadmap date of May 17 for resuming non-essential international travel as the Government again told Britons to wait to book a summer holiday abroad.
The Prime Minister’s lockdown exit strategy said foreign holidays would return ‘no earlier than’ the middle of May.
But the initial findings of a Whitehall review on the subject said the ‘state of the pandemic abroad, and the progress of vaccination programmes in other countries’ means ministers are ‘not yet in a position to confirm that non-essential international travel can resume from that point’.
The findings said the Government ‘will confirm in advance whether non-essential international travel can resume on 17 May, or whether we will need to wait longer before lifting the outbound travel restriction’.
‘For the moment, the Government advises people not to book summer holidays abroad until the picture is clearer,’ the update said.
Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference he is ‘hopeful’ of hitting the May 17 date but he added: ‘I do not wish to give hostages to fortune or to underestimate the difficulties that we are seeing in some of the destination countries that people might want to go to.
‘We don’t want to see the virus being re-imported into this country from abroad, plainly there is a surge in other parts of the world and we have to be mindful of that and we have to be realistic.’