Ease travel restrictions, urge businesses

Trade groups in the UK have expressed concerns that the government's 'traffic lights' system, which allows unrestricted journeys to and from countries deemed to be safe from Covid-19, is too narrow to allow essential business travel.

The travel industry has also described as "overly cautious" the fact that only a dozen countries are on the 'green list' for travel. Under the new system, which comes into force on May 17, travellers from green list countries will need a negative pre-departure Covid test but will not have to isolate at all upon their return to the UK.But the only countries on the green list are Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Falkland Islands, Israel, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, and Portugal, including the Azores and Madeira.People entering England from amber countries will need a negative pre-departure Covid test and will have to isolate at home for 10 days. Travellers from red list countries will need a negative pre-departure Covid test and undergo managed quarantine at a hotel for 10 days. The government is to review the list every three weeks.Matthew Fell, chief UK policy director at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said that, given the effects of the pandemic, the government had understandably acted cautiously in its plans to reopen international travel.But he added: "Given the limited number of countries on the government's initial 'green list', firms reliant on international travel are still heavily restricted in their ability to trade their way to recovery."The clarification of country classifications must be the first step towards a genuine reopening of international travel."The priority now has to be to work with business to lower cost barriers to safe travel and build the evidence base for safely reopening quarantine-free travel to more key destinations - reconnecting UK firms with key markets for a globally competitive recovery."Hannah Essex, co-executive director at the British Chambers of Commerce, agreed that many firms would be looking for an expansion of the green list to enable a broader resumption of international travel in the coming months."Many firms will be hoping that this soon leads to a further expansion of the ‘green list’. Firms are eager to reconnect with their overseas customers and suppliers, indeed for many having that access could be key to their very survival," she said.“Firms want to see government do everything it can to continue drive down the cost of the tests required for business and leisure travellers. These costs must not be allowed to become an impediment to the viability of businesses reliant on tourism, or on UK firms chances of seizing opportunities for global trade and staking a place in growing markets."Government should keep these lists under constant review. Being driven by data and not dates, there should be no hesitation in adding a country to the green list if the data shows it is safe to do so.”The trade body Airlines UK described the government's initial list as a missed opportunity and represented "a reopening of air travel in name only".The fact that the US was omitted from the green list was condemned by Virgin Atlantic. "There is no reason for the US to be absent from the green list," said a spokesman."This overly cautious approach fails to reap the benefits of the UK's successful vaccination programme. A transatlantic travel corridor is vital to deliver a much-needed boost to economic recovery."

Read more news and views from David Sapsted.

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