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Government plan will only reopen foreign holidays ‘for people who can afford it’

Neil Lancefield, PA Transport Correspondent
·4-min read

Requiring holidaymakers returning from low-risk countries to pay for two coronavirus tests will only reopen international travel “for people who can afford it”, the boss of easyJet has warned.

Chief executive Johan Lundgren claimed passengers should not face “more complexities and cost” for visiting “green” destinations.

On Monday, the Government unveiled the outline of a traffic light system for enabling overseas leisure travel to resume as part of the easing of coronavirus restrictions.

Assessments will be based on a range of factors, including the proportion of a country’s population which has been vaccinated, rates of infection, emerging new variants and the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.

Travellers returning from countries rated “green” will not be required to self-isolate, although pre-departure and post-arrival tests will still be needed.

Mr Lundgren told BBC Breakfast: “It should not be needed to put any more complexities and cost in order to travel to and from those destinations.”

He said PCR tests are “way over and above what the cost is of an average easyJet fare”.

If travellers are forced to pay for those tests, then “you wouldn’t open up international travel for everyone, you would open up international travel for people who can afford it,” Mr Lundgren claimed.

He went on: “I don’t think that is fair, I don’t think it’s right, and I don’t think it is necessarily established from a medical and scientific point of view that is the right thing to do.

“If they choose, however, to go down that route to have the tests in place, it should be the same type of testing, the lateral flow testing, which is much cheaper, more accessible, that is being used to open up the domestic sector as an example.”

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss told reporters that the Government must aim to enable people to return from “green” countries without the need for tests.

Mr Weiss said: “The essence of the framework should allow for a path to green and removal of testing and quarantine when it is safe to do so.”

He added: “We can’t have a prohibitively expensive testing system that puts businesses, people and families off travelling.

“Passengers travelling to and from ‘green’ countries should be able to do so freely, without testing or quarantine at all, and vaccinated passengers travelling to and from ‘amber’ countries should not face testing or quarantine.

“Other than for ‘red’ countries, we do not believe quarantine is the answer for controlling the spread of the virus.”

Mr Weiss said destinations that should be on the “green” list from May 17 include the US, Israel and the Caribbean.

The US is “vaccinating over three million people per day”, Israel is “the world’s leading vaccinated country”, and the Caribbean “has done an awesome job throughout this pandemic of keeping things under control”, he explained at a joint press conference with Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye and British Airways boss Sean Doyle.

Mr Holland-Kaye said the United Arab Emirates could be included as “they also have very high levels of vaccination”.

He went on: “There are plenty of long-haul countries which have low Covid levels, and many of them have high vaccination levels also.”

Mr Doyle cited recent research by consultancy York Aviation which suggested that a “lost summer of international travel” would cost the UK economy £55.7 billion in lost trade and £3 billion in lost tourism.

Travel to and from the US is “vitally important for all of us here in the UK”, he said, adding: “No air link to the US until September will cost the UK an additional £2.4 billion. That’s £23 million per day. A tremendous lost opportunity if we don’t act now and quickly.”

Rory Boland, editor of consumer magazine Which? Travel, said: “Testing will be essential for restarting travel safely, but private tests in the UK are currently too expensive and risk pricing most people out of travel.

“Other countries have found solutions to reduce the cost of private testing, so if the Government is serious about making travel safe and affordable when it restarts, it must urgently look at ways to reduce these expenses.”