Hundreds of passengers queued before 6am at Heathrow and Gatwick this morning as airports expect their busiest day of the year, with the easing of global travel restrictions predicted to trigger a stampede as the Government’s traffic light system comes into force today.
Britain’s five busiest airports – Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Manchester and Luton – are expecting to operate 124 flights to amber list countries today alone, including 23 to Spain. Manchester Airport alone revealed it was expecting to handle 91 flights on Monday – up by two thirds on last week.
Holidaymakers will be able to jet overseas for the first time since the end of last year as the traffic light system – which rates countries as green, amber, or red based on the risk of importing coronavirus into Britain – springs into action amid a further easing of the third national shutdown.
So far, just 12 countries including Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel have been listed as green destinations, meaning they are free to travel without quarantining on their return to Britain. Those travelling to one of 43 red list countries including India, where the new, more infectious variant taking hold in Bolton and Blackburn was first traced, must isolate in a hotel for 10 days at a cost of £1,750 upon arriving back to the UK.
But Matt Hancock caused chaos last night after telling people not to go on holiday to whole swathes of Europe despite most of the continent being on the amber list, as scientists claimed much of the landmass was unvaccinated and therefore more vulnerable to covid variants.
The remarks were slammed by travel bosses who accused the Government of needlessly ‘instilling fear’ by discouraging overseas holidays. One industry executive suggested No10’s real concern was a shortage of border staff to police arrivals following scenes of chaos at passport arrivals at Heathrow earlier in the year.
Labour called for a ‘slow down’ in the lifting of the global travel ban and accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of ignoring science after he allegedly delayed putting India on the red list so he could strike a trade deal with New Delhi – despite a variant bringing that country’s health system to the brink of collapse.
As the coronavirus lockdown was further eased today, it emerged:
- The PM urged families to adopt ‘caution’ with the ban on indoor socialising and hugs finally ending;
- The number of Britons given their second coronavirus vaccine reached 20million yesterday;
- An update to the NHS app allowed for proof of jab status as pubs and restaurants allow customers indoors;
- Mr Hancock said ministers were confident existing vaccines would work against the new Indian strain;
- Just four virus-related deaths were recorded yesterday, but cases rose by eight per cent in a week to 2,000;
- Long queues formed outside vaccination centres in Bolton, where the Indian covid variant has surged.
Holidaymakers at Gatwick Airport as the global travel ban is lifted and British people can go overseas for holidays
Passengers line up to check-in for early morning flights at Gatwick Airport as global travel restrictions ease today
A passenger in a hazmat suit is seen in Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 this morning as covid restrictions ease today
The first passengers at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 departures this morning as global travel restrictions ease today
Small queues of holidaymakers who will be jetting off overseas for a break as travel restrictions are eased from today
The first passengers at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 departures taking advantage of the easing of travel restrictions
The first passengers at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 departures as global travel restrictions are eased from today
Small queues of holidaymakers who will be jetting off overseas for a break as travel restrictions are eased
The traffic light system rates countries as green, amber or red based on the risk of importing coronavirus into Britain, with those going to green list countries such as Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel free to travel without quarantining on return
Downing Street released the full list of countries on green, amber and red lists ahead of a loosening of restrictions tomorrow
Ryanair suffers record £700MILLION loss due to grounding of 80% of flights – but ‘optimistic’ boss Michael O’Leary says bookings ‘tripled’ in last six weeks and predicts Italy and Greece will be on ‘Green List’ by end of month
Ryanair has reported a full year loss of £702 million as traffic fell 81 per cent from 149 million passengers to 27.5 million due to the pandemic.
But the Ireland-based low-cost airline said in a statement it expects to benefit from a ‘strong rebound of pent up travel demand’ through the second half of 2021.
It is looking to returning to pre-Covid growth in summer 2022 with the help of the delivery of Boeing 737 ‘Gamechanger’ aircraft and new bases in Billund, Riga, Stockholm, Zadar and Zagreb.
It described the financial year as ‘the most challenging’ in the firm’s 35-year history due to the pandemic.
‘There was a partial recovery during summer 2020, as initial lockdowns eased, however a second Covid-19 wave in Europe followed quickly in the autumn with a third wave in spring,’ Ryanair said in a statement.
‘This created enormous disruptions and uncertainty for both our customers and our people, as they suffered constantly changing Government guidelines, travel bans and restrictions.
‘Ryanair responded promptly, and effectively, to this crisis, by working hard to assist millions of customers with flight changes, refunds and changed travel plans.
‘We minimised job losses through agreed pay cuts and participation in Government job support schemes, while at the same time keeping our pilots, cabin crew and aircraft current and ready to resume service once normality returns.’
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary said the airline was ‘very optimistic for the next couple of months’ after bookings trebled during the past six weeks.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘The UK vaccine programme has been extraordinarily successful. We’re up to 60 per cent of the adult population having received their first dose.
‘European countries recognise that. They’re beginning to lift restrictions on inbound UK visitors.
‘Portugal this morning. We’re very hopeful that Italy and Greece will be added to that green list before the end of May, and Spain will come shortly thereafter.’
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary told BBC Breakfast that fares will remain low this summer but could soar in 2022 as the number of seats will be 25 per cent lower than before the pandemic due to airlines collapsing or reducing their operations.
He said: ‘There’s no doubt in my mind that prices will rise, particularly during the peaks of the bank holiday weekends, the school holiday travel period, but that won’t affect bookings for summer 2021.
‘In 2021 prices will never be cheaper because all the airlines are running with much lower advanced bookings than we have ever had before because of the travel restrictions.
‘So I think this summer there are going to be great travel bargains. Get on the Ryanair website and book them now.
‘But summer 2022, we will be urging people to book very early because I think there’s less seats and pricing will be higher.’
Travellers at London Heathrow are rushing to catch the first flights to green list Portugal and Gibraltar, as airport staff were seen giving excited passengers bound for Europe gift bags as they arrived at check-in.
Some people, including 21-year-old Michelle Clark, admitted she was ‘quite nervous’ about getting through security, which has been beefed up with temperature scanners to meet covid safety requirements.
Care home worker Theresa Depino, who is travelling with a friend to Faro, revealed that her holiday to Portugal is her first holiday since September.
‘It has been a really long winter for me with the lockdown and trying to keep the care home going all through the last year so it will be so nice,’ she told MailOnline. ‘I am just going to sleep and get in the sun and relax for a week, I have earned it.’
Mike, Sharon, Isabella and Evan, who declined to give their surnames, said: ‘We are so excited to get away, this is our first holiday for almost two years.
‘We are heading to Portugal for a couple of weeks and staying in an Airbnb. We just want to get some sun really and to escape the rain. We have been stuck in the country for literally two years now so it is just so nice for us to get away. So far we haven’t really got any plans for when we get there.
‘We are just going to see what it is like when we are over there but we just want to see the sun!’
Speaking to MailOnline, business traveller Yaseen Akhtarwas worried about the impact holidaymakers might have on the airport. ‘I have been travelling for work all through lockdown,’ he said.
‘We had to move our office to Amsterdam because of Brexit so I have been back and forth.
‘It is busier than it has been. Travelling through lockdown has been a nuisance, coming back last month it was a mess. I waited here for three hours to get back and having to book the two tests is expensive.
‘It is going to be packed unless they sort it out, it was already packed last month with only business travellers so they need to get more staff on the desks here.’ The 28-year-old added: ‘I am really looking forward to getting away for a holiday, I think it will be quite a while till I get one though.’
Mr Hancock risked chaos yesterday during a media round after telling people not to travel to amber list countries. He was slammed by the travel industry, which said that holidaymakers are ‘voting with their feet’ and going ahead with long-awaited trips to see relatives abroad.
Paul Charles, chief executive and founder of the respected travel firm The PC Agency, accused the Government of ‘trying to play down travel’ because of concerns about border staff shortages.
He said: ‘The Government has to change its message. It is not illegal to travel, you can travel safely and responsibly to any country if they will let you in.
‘And many British travellers will want to see their families who they haven’t seen in over a year. Now is the time to travel safely. But they are still trying to instil fear into people at a time when the most vulnerable have been jabbed and mortalities are at a record low.’
The travel expert said that ticket sales data showed that people were ignoring the amber list advice and booking trips to coincide with the end of the official travel ban.
Booking website Skyscanner found bookings to Italy increased by 63 per cent week on week once the relaxation of travel restrictions was announced.
Bookings to France rose by 41 per cent and Spain bookings went up by 39 per cent. In comparison, bookings to Portugal rose by 616 per cent.
Mr Charles added: ‘The traffic light system is in danger of being out of date before the bulk of it comes into practice because people will vote with their feet.’
Tim Alderslade, of industry body Airlines UK, said: ‘The whole point of the tiers system is that restrictions are built in to mitigate the risk. We strongly believe that the green list can be extended at the next review point to include the most popular European destinations and the United States.’
Almost the whole of Europe, North America and large parts of the Middle East and East Asia are on the Government’s amber list, with people returning from these countries required to quarantine. However, they can leave isolation if they have a negative PCR test taken on day five.
Tour operators including Tui, easyJet Holidays and British Airways Holidays are planning to run trips to countries including Malta, Antigua and the Canary Islands – with Tui yesterday offering up to 51 per cent off holidays to the Canaries as early as next week.
The Government has said it will review the green list every three weeks, starting early next month.
Critics have warned that tougher action should have been taken sooner against India, which was only added to the ‘red list’ on April 23, two weeks after neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh – despite reports that the virus was bringing the country’s health system to the brink of collapse.
Yesterday Mr Hancock defended the timing of travel restrictions on India but dodged questions on whether the decision was linked to Downing Street’s planned trade mission.
The Health Secretary argued in a round of interviews that testing rates were lower in Pakistan at the time, and that the proportion of arrivals testing positive for covid was three times higher than from India.
A passenger in a hazmat suit is seen in Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 this morning as covid restrictions are eased
The first passengers at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 departures taking advantage of the easing of travel restrictions today
Small queues of holidaymakers who will be jetting off overseas for a break as travel restrictions are eased from today
The departures board at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 this morning as global travel restrictions are eased today
The UK’s daily death toll has doubled on last week, from two on May 9 to four yesterday – bringing the UK total to 127,679. Daily covid cases across the country rose by eight per cent in a week, according to official figures
But data from Public Health England shows that 4.8 per cent of the 3,345 people landing in Britain from India between March 25 and April 7 tested positive, compared to just 0.1 per cent of people in England.
Official figures also show Bolton and Blackburn are the most infectious parts of the country, with a doubling in cases in the past week largely as a result of the more transmissible Indian variant.
It is the latest statistic to be brandished at Mr Johnson, with pressure growing over his decision to delay banning travel from the Asian nation until late April amid allegations that he refrained from doing so for fear of offending Narendra Modi and torpedoing the chance to strike a major trade deal.
Labour chairwoman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Yvette Cooper called for a ‘slow down’ in the easing of travel restrictions alongside her colleague Steve Reed, the Shadow Communities Secretary, who accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of ‘not always following the science in the way he ought to be doing’.
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran alleged Mr Johnson ‘put the pursuit of a post-Brexit trade deal with India ahead of public health’, adding that a public inquiry must examine whether the decision was political or scientific.
Though SAGE scientist Professor John Edmunds urged the country not to panic over the new variant, which is not thought to be vaccine resistant, he admitted that the spread of the variant could have been delayed had the border to India been closed more quickly. This could prove to be critical as No10 accelerates its vaccine roll-out so that a million jabs are given out per day in a race against the variant.