Boris Johnson was last night urged by the boss of British Airways to capitalise on the UK’s world-beating vaccine rollout to end the ‘heart-breaking’ restrictions on foreign travel before another summer holiday season is ruined.
BA chief executive Sean Doyle called for Britons who have been vaccinated to be able to fly along with those who have not had a jab but can demonstrate a negative test result.
He said: ‘We know people want to travel, we know countries want to accept travellers and we believe with testing, vaccination and technology we can enable that in a way that is seamless and frictionless and allows the industry to get back on its feet again.
Mr Doyle told The Mail on Sunday that progress on vaccinations had created ‘a lot of room for optimism’ that Britons could fly as soon as then
Spain, Cyprus and Greece hope to welcome back vaccinated Britons as early as May 1, while Turkey has said they would be welcome even if they have not had the jab
‘I hear many heartbreaking stories of people who haven’t been able to visit frail and elderly parents overseas over the course of the last 12 months.’
Non-essential international travel is banned until May 17, with Ministers locked in discussions about whether to allow the resumption of foreign holidays at that point.
Spain, Cyprus and Greece hope to welcome back vaccinated Britons as early as May 1, while Turkey has said they would be welcome even if they have not had the jab.
But No10’s scientific advisers are concerned about the risks of letting Britons leave the country – where infection levels have been brought under control – to holiday in nations in the grip of mutant strains against which the vaccine might be less effective.
Whitehall sources said the EU’s chaotic vaccine rollout – the UK is nearly two months ahead of the bloc in the speed of its programme – had made booking holidays on the continent a ‘50-50 bet’. For that reason, most Cabinet Ministers say privately they are not planning a foreign trip this summer.
Instead, No10 will herald the benefits of staying in the UK. Pilot schemes will be run next month to open venues such as football stadiums, nightclubs and theatres for people who can show a negative test.
Government sources say Mr Johnson will have his jab this week, while an increase in vaccine supplies will boost the number of second doses – although reports that all adults could be vaccinated by June were played down. It came as:
A minute’s silence and a national doorstep vigil will form part of a day of reflection on March 23 to mark the anniversary of the first lockdown;
- Austria, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Bulgaria demanded urgent talks with EU chiefs over claims of unfair vaccine distribution;
- Amid concern at the low take-up of the vaccine among working-age adults at greater risk of serious Covid illness, the NHS began sending out two million reminder texts to people with serious conditions.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is leading efforts to devise reciprocal travel arrangements with foreign countries ahead of summer.
It comes amid renewed Government splits over the relaxation of travel restrictions, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak leading concerns over the future of the aviation industry.
The Global Travel Taskforce set up by Mr Shapps and Health Secretary Matt Hancock will report by April 12, with recommendations on ‘facilitating a return to international travel as soon as possible while still managing the risk from imported cases and variants of concern’. It will then be decided whether international travel can resume on May 17.
Government sources say Mr Johnson will have his jab this week, while an increase in vaccine supplies will boost the number of second doses – although reports that all adults could be vaccinated by June were played down
Mr Doyle told The Mail on Sunday that progress on vaccinations had created ‘a lot of room for optimism’ that Britons could fly as soon as then.
He said there was ‘huge pent-up demand for travel’ after ‘an incredibly challenging 12 months for society’, adding: ‘Britain has developed a strong leadership position in coming out of the other end of the pandemic and we want to make sure we take that leadership position into restoring travel and restoring the economy.’
BA will hold off announcing its summer flying schedule until the Prime Minister sets out the Government’s plans.
A spokesman for Virgin Atlantic said: ‘It is critical for the Government to provide a clear path for the restart of international travel.’
BA is set to launch document-checking on its website so passengers can upload vaccine certificates and test results when booking flights. It is also backing the VeriFLY health passport app, which is being trialled on BA’s international flights, and plans to start trials on the Iata Travel Pass – another health passport app.
The Government plans to upgrade the NHS app to let people use their phone to prove they have been vaccinated or have a recent negative test.
Paul Meyer, CEO of the World Economic Forum’s Common Pass project – a global travel certification scheme – said: ‘After leading on vaccination, the UK can now lead the world in helping their vaccinated citizens to start travelling again.’
A Treasury source said: ‘We have been supportive of a cautious approach to relaxing foreign travel restrictions.’