Run for the Border
Issac Bettridge, Online Features Editor, weighs up the government advice for travelling abroad.
Much like its approach to the entirety of the pandemic, the government’s policy towards holidays and foreign travel has been confusing, incoherent and detrimental to the wider goal of pandemic control and economic recovery. Though anchored in an understandable desire to balance COVID safety with revitalising the tourist industry and catering to stir-crazy British holiday-makers, the ‘traffic light’ system- whereby countries are divided into ‘green’ (safe to travel), ‘amber’ (travel discouraged but allowed for essential reasons) and ‘red’ (do not travel for any reason)- has been accused of being both unnecessarily vague and non-specific about where people should or shouldn’t go (for example, ministers have regularly gone on TV advising people not to travel to amber list countries, leading many to ask why we don’t simply have only two categories of ‘go’ or ‘don’t go’) and insufficient to prevent importation of new strains or further infection.
the traffic light system… has been accused of being both unnecessarily vague and non-specific about where people should or shouldn’t go
The recent importation of the ‘Indian’ or ‘Delta’ variant, coming after ministers delayed putting India on the red list three weeks after red-listing the less badly hit Pakistan and Bangladesh, thereby allowing hundreds of flights from India to come into the country, has clearly demonstrated that the current system is not working. So why is holiday policy important, why does the current system operate the way it does and how might it change in the future?
Perhaps the most common unifying factor among the countries who have had the most successful pandemic response has been border control – closing down borders, quarantining arrivals and preventing the importation of fresh outbreaks or variants. For example, Australia – which has had around 30,000 cases and 900 deaths as compared to Britain’s four and a half million cases and 150,000 deaths – closed its borders to all non-residents in March 2020, operates a strict two-week hotel quarantine for all new arrivals into the country and has recently announced it intends to continue the ‘Fortress Australia’ policy until mid-2022.
The UK, by contrast, kept its borders open throughout the entirety of the first lockdown and last summer (many scientists have blamed this for contributing to the autumn and winter resurgence, with British tourists re-importing the virus from Spain or Greece). It also only introduced a hotel quarantine policy in February this year- which has not been as strict as that operated in other countries- and have only required it for red-list countries, unlike most other nations which have made the quarantine mandatory for all arrivals. The introduction of this policy and the ‘traffic light’ system mark a shift in government thinking from last year, when it set up individual ‘travel corridors’ with popular tourist destinations such as Greece and Spain and reflect a shift in government thinking aiming to appear tougher on COVID and prevent future outbreaks.
This shift is certainly commendable, but many scientists have criticised the current policy as being overly lax and full of holes, as evidenced by the furore over the Indian variant: the traffic light system was specifically meant to prevent the importation of dangerous variants from at-risk countries but has pointedly failed to do so, and now that Portugal has been taken off the green list as well there are no longer any real viable options for British holidaymakers to visit.
official opinion on this has zig-zagged over the past few months, with many decrying it as an infringement on civil liberties
The current system, as it stands, seems rather inadequate, not following the science but also not opening up tourism and the economy to any significant extent, but government statements make it seem likely that it will remain in place for a while. Therefore, what does this mean for us, for the summer, and for the foreseeable future?
One big idea to bring back tourism is the introduction of ‘vaccine passports’, certification that one has been fully vaccinated and therefore is at minimal risk of catching or transmitting the virus. Official opinion on this has zig-zagged over the past few months, with many decrying it as an infringement on civil liberties and unfair to the millions of young people who have not yet had the chance to be vaccinated whilst others point out that similar systems already exist for illnesses such as malaria and arguing the economic benefits outweigh the potential costs. Regardless of how this argument goes, I personally do not see a foreign holiday as a viable prospect until next year, so those seeking to get away should find somewhere to visit within the UK. In doing so this would help revitalise the struggling hospitality sector, and besides the ‘good citizen’ incentive there are many underappreciated beauty spots in the UK who could do with an infusion of cash. Until such a time as the virus situation improves here and abroad, we should forget about foreign holidays and enjoy our own country.