IF you managed to get to a Spanish beach last summer, as many British holidaymakers did in spite of Covid restrictions, I bet two thoughts didn’t occur you as you lounged in the sun.
Firstly, that within 12 months we would have several vaccines which prevented more than nine in 10 serious cases of the disease, and that over half the British population would have been fully-jabbed. Secondly, that in spite of this it would be more difficult to take a foreign holiday in 2021 than in 2020. How can we simultaneously achieved one of the great medical achievements of the past century – to have developed a new vaccine in about a tenth of the time it normally takes – and yet at the same time find ourselves under ever-more draconian restrictions on travel?
The government keeps holding out the promise of a resumption of easier foreign travel, shifting a few token places such as Malta and the Balearics to the extended green list and suggesting the need for fully-vaccinated people to quarantine will be relaxed.
Yet still it remains horribly difficult to leave and re-enter Britain – whether you are going on holiday, seeing friends or family or travelling for work.
Even in the case of countries on the green list, which are supposed to be open for tourism, travellers are made to jump through hoops like getting tested 72 hours before their return journey. That is one thing if you are staying in a resort where testing is well-organised; quite another if you are, say, driving around Iceland where the opportunities to get tested are limited.
The PCR tests required of holidaymakers cost around £60 each, which soon adds up if you are taking a family of five and you need to get tested several times on your way out of the country and upon your return.
The green list is, in any case, a farce. The only mass tourism destination, Portugal, was swiftly removed, catching out many people who thought it was safe to book holidays there.
I can recommend Iceland – I had a fantastic trip climbing volcanoes there two years ago – and I’m sure you can have a pleasant holiday in Israel and an interesting day in Gibraltar.
But apart from those, the green list mostly contains countries which won’t let you in anyway – such as Australia and New Zealand – or obscure territories which are virtually impossible to visit.
Much as I would love to go to the South Atlantic island of St Helena, the only practical way of getting there is to fly from South Africa – which we can’t do because it is on the red list.
It is absurd that countries like Norway (which has 2.4 cases of Covid per 100,000 inhabitants) and Finland (1.7) remain on the amber list when they have so much lower rates than Britain (7.0 cases per 100,000).
Where British citizens can go on holiday isn’t entirely within the hands of our government, of course – German Chancellor Angela Merkel wanted to impose requirements on UK visitors to isolate and implored other EU countries to follow suit. But Spain has defied her.
Foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said her country will let British families in without forcing them to quarantine.
The worst aspect of travel rules is the way they change with little warning. When countries can be put on the red list at a few hours’ notice no-one can plan with any confidence.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that the government is trying to impose an Australianstyle zero covid policy by stealth, but isn’t brave enough to tell us.
Instead it is trying to close our borders by making travellers’ lives such a misery that we won’t want to travel even when technically allowed. It is infuriating, too, that the global elite seem to be exempt from the travel rules which are imposed on the rest of us.
Families have been kept apart – and yet it seems 2,500 UEFA officials and VIPs will be allowed into Britain for the European Championship final without the need to quarantine.
It isn’t just a case of personal freedom – the travel industry is on its knees. And outbound tourism doesn’t just benefit overseas economies.
The Centre for Economic and Business Research said it is worth £12.2billion annually to the UK economy and employs 214,500 people.
Clearly, Covid hasn’t gone away and there remains a danger from new variants. But those are no more likely to evolve in foreign countries with low incidence of Covid than they are in Britain.
We have to get back to normal sooner or later, and with hospitalisations remaining low and the adult population nearly entirely vaccinated, the government should be opening up travel to countries with low rates of Covid. We have cooperated for 15 months. The government should not now be denying us a well-earned break.