Are we in danger of creating ‘a generation of Covid neurotics’?

Dr Liam Fox

Dr Liam Fox MP

In a recent column published in the Daily Mail, former Conservative International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox MP has urged the UK to open its borders.

Following the news that the final lockdown measures were extended for four weeks until July 19th, millions have expressed their anger and concern at the latest measures – despite the increasing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lockdown was extended due to the rise of the Delta Variant. This means all relevant restrictions such as social distancing and wearing masks will remain in place until then.

However, with the ever-changing traffic light systems and isolating that is required for international travel – the leisure and tourism industry, which was already on its knees, has suffered another blow.

Dr Fox has expressed his concern about the extension: “But the British people are not stupid. They know that the world cannot be closed down and that, sooner or later, we will have to learn to live with Covid-19 just as we have learned to live with other viral illnesses over time.

“As a former International Trade Secretary, it pains me to look at a half-empty Heathrow Airport, one of the world’s great transport hubs, and a centre not only of passenger travel but many of our exporting businesses.

“We will need these businesses to flourish to boost our recovery and provide the funds to rebalance the public purses that have been so severely hit in the pandemic. In a post-Brexit world, our global connections are more important than ever.

“Then there is leisure travel, which needs to open up before it goes bust and before another holiday season is lost. There is both confusion and anger about the ever-changing traffic-light system, where most can see no logic. Families desperate for a real break from the strain of lockdown have faced chaos as ‘lights’ change back and forth with very little information given about exactly how the decisions are taken.”

Mixed messages from government

However, recently it was announced that international travel restrictions may be eased for UK citizens who have had both jabs. Health Secretary Matt Hancock has hinted that this could be a reality, but with less than a month before all restrictions are lifted – there is no concrete plan in place.

Hancock did reveal that those discussions ‘were happening’ but have not been advanced to debate in the House of Commons.

However, the issue was then made even less clear after Justice Secretary Robert Buckland stated that ‘normal’ international holidays ‘were never going to be the case this summer’ – and went on to defend the current government travel policy.

In response, Fox said: “It is now time to start lifting the travel ban – not least because we know the vaccines are working well. Those who have had two doses are at little risk of infection, let alone serious illness, and should be allowed to travel much more freely and with minimal, if any, quarantine when they come home. So far, this covers more than 30 million UK adults.

“As a medical doctor by profession, who has also been a politician in charge of an international economic department, I understand these conflicting points of view. It is entirely understandable that the medical profession would want to take any measure, however illiberal, to keep downward pressure on the number of Covid-19 cases in the country. That is what they do. The Government needs to take a wider view, however, balancing the risks of the pandemic with the need to get our economy moving.”

Green light for travel

With the Government review of the UK’s traffic light system for international travel expected this week, the UK’s leading business organisation – the CBI – is calling on the Government to give a higher priority to reopening the sector.

The aviation sector on its own added over £20bn per year to the economy prior to the pandemic, but it also facilitates much more in global trade, with air freight accounting for 40% of UK imports and exports by value.

Looking ahead to the review, Lord Bilimoria, CBI President, said: “Despite our high vaccination rate and relatively low numbers in hospital, the UK risks being left behind as the world opens up for business and tourist travel. Of course, public health must be front of mind on any decisions. But we can’t be first on vaccines, yet last on reopening international travel. It is essential for trade and business travel, not just tourism, and a key component in any economic recovery.

“The EU has developed its Green Certificate plan for easier movement for vaccinated travellers, while action is also being taken at Member State level, as well as the US and other countries. The international business community are united that global travel should begin to restart with a common rulebook to set standards worldwide.

“We must build on the success of the vaccine programme by removing quarantine restrictions for those who are protected. And to make better use of the green watch-list, avoiding last-minute surprises of countries shifting from green into amber.

“The Government should take a truly risk-based approach with greater transparency on how nations are classified in the traffic light system.

“The international travel sector has suffered incredibly badly in this crisis. 2020 saw a 75% fall in the number of air passengers travelling to and from the UK. Without moves to open up travel in the coming days the case for further targeted economic support for the sector will be required with urgency.”

Today’s announcement

Today is ABTA’s Day of Travel Action, a day for the travel industry to speak up and ask the Government to provide clear guidance on the future of international travel.

Travel giant Not Just Travel is supporting the day with hundreds of their travel consultants lending their voices by emailing MPs and taking part on Twitter.

Co-Founders Steve Witt and Paul Harrison shared their views: “Today we stand united with our colleagues across the entire travel industry for the ‘Travel Day of Action’. This is a day of action where the travel and aviation industry is calling for greater support from the government to allow a safe return to travel. An industry which has never seen such high demand from customers wanting to travel, yet are unable.

“An industry which continued to support customers throughout the pandemic, even though in March last year not only had to stop, but also had to refund all of its customers who had booked a holiday in the lead-up to this point.

“An industry which continues to help and support customers today. One which needs to keep planes serviced and ready to fly, pilots trained and certified, airports open and ready to operate, hotels operational even at a fraction of capacity and the list goes on.

“The travel industry already operates in a highly regulated way to ensure customers are fully protected. This means that when someone books a holiday, each supplier of that holiday is not receiving its money until the customer goes on holiday.

“Therefore the biggest support the travel industry needs right now is the ability to allow customers to travel to safe destinations. Airports, airlines and travel have possibly never been safer.

“Destination countries, resorts and hotels have worked hard to ensure that customers are protected. With more testing and safety measures in place than you would have when travelling within the UK, the evidence and science is suggesting that travel right now is safe.

“Therefore the industry is not asking the government to go against the science, but to simply follow the logic, the evidence and the customer demand in allowing a safe return to travel as a priority as part of the The Global Travel Taskforce traffic-light system.

“Customers can continue to support the travel industry by booking their holidays, safe in the knowledge that ABTA and ATOL means their money is safe, they are getting some of the best deals ever seen in travel, but also knowing they are doing their bit to help the industry.

“Clearly we (the travel industry) are not the only industry heavily affected by the pandemic and we support every industry and every person who has also been affected. But travel is one of those industries which does unite us all, and today we ask for the support of everyone by asking the government to support the industry.”

What is next?

With weeks of uncertainty set to continue – and even post-lockdown, there will be questions regarding the future of travel and its safety.

However, with the economy yet to recover and millions looking to go abroad – what is the next step for government and the industry?

With news yet to come from 10 Downing Street, the UK continues to wait.

Fox concluded: “Today, we are in danger of creating a generation of Covid neurotics, whose fear is driven by a bewildering array of scientific advisers, some of whom seem determined to promote their own narrow agendas on Twitter and the broadcast media. Yet we cannot have a risk-free existence and the cost of even trying to get close to this goal could have profoundly damaging effects on our economy, our society and our people.

“The vaccines programme in the UK has been a triumph. It is time to swap fear for optimism. Time to start rebuilding our lives and our economy. And that means flying once again.”

Industry reaction

In line with Fox’s comments, Bristol Airport have also been vocal about saving the travel industry. In a recent exclusive video interview, they spoke to Business Leader on the issue.

enewsletter