Great Britain

Boris Johnson can’t please everyone over Covid travel restrictions – trying to is just creating confusion

When it comes to the thorny issue of Covid-19 travel restrictions, Boris Johnson and his government appear to be trying to please everyone – and are doing a good job at pleasing very few.

The ending of additional measures for France after Sunday will mean a cooling of diplomatic tensions, while Spain staying on the amber list allows fully vaccinated Britons to avoid quarantine upon return from both nations. However, Spain is under close watch and travellers arriving in the UK from the country are now advised to take a PCR test - rather than the cheaper lateral flow tests - for the mandatory pre-departure test as a "precaution against the increased prevalence of the virus and variants".

Conservative MP – and chair of the of Transport Select Committee – Huw Merriman is one to have made his view of the move clear vis Twitter, calling PCR tests an "unnecessary rip-off". No doubt there will be other backbench Tories annoyed at aspects of the latest announcement.

The measures are a relief for a travel industry that is looking to get back on its feet – given the speculation that Spain could have moved up red list, as well as Germany, Austria and Norway being among seven nations added to the green list – but they are hardly jumping for joy. Mark Tanzer, the chief executive of the ABTA travel association, was one of a number of those in the industry to call for greater urgency from the government.

“The UK is falling behind our European competitors and the opening up of international travel from the UK is progressing at a snail’s pace," he said "[It is] making it extremely difficult for travel agents and tour operators to generate enough income to kickstart a recovery, which is desperately needed to protect jobs, businesses and livelihoods.”

On the other hand, the government is trying to show that it is taking the risk of the spread of the Beta variant seriously, flagging up the fact that some countries have been moved to the red list. However, Labour has been quick to criticise the government for "flip-flopping over France" – and has called for transparency over how the decisions around international travel are made so that both travellers and the tourism industry have "clarity" over where they stand.

"Ministers need to get a grip and set out a proper strategy, provide full data, and progress work with global partners on international vaccine passports so travellers and the industry can have clarity instead of reckless U-turns and confusion," said Labour's shadow transport secretary, Jim McMahon.

This is the same tightrope that the government has been trying to walk for more than a year – recognising the threat that Covid variants pose while trying to do what they can to help industries in dire need of an economic boost. I'm not saying it is an easy job, but mixed messaging – the scrapping of the idea of a watchlist of countries that could move from amber to red after days of speculation being the latest example – has been a constant feature.

No doubt airlines and accommodation owners in France and Spain will be hoping for a flurry of late bookings, but many will wonder if Britons have already booked places in the UK, or scrapped plans for a summer holiday, given the shifting advice.

This will likely end up being a situation where the government can't win – someone will always be disappointed. But ministers should be wary of trying to please everyone at once.

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