When will we be able to travel again?
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We’re now more than one month into lockdown No. 3. We’ve almost hit one year since we entered our first lockdown. I shouldn’t be the first to tell you that this has been a long, gruelling and draining pandemic.
We’re desperate to return to normality. And for many, that means being able to go on holiday again.
But when will that be? While we don’t yet know when the latest lockdown restrictions will be lifted, there’s a sense of hope that we may be able to look towards getting away later this year.
Until the lockdown restrictions are lifted, all non-essential travel remains off the table. As such, both domestic and international holidays are illegal at this time. Additionally, there is no indication from the government when the lockdown restrictions may be lifted. However, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the government will set out a “route map” out of lockdown on 22 February.
When the lockdown is lifted — whenever that may be — there’s no indication what restrictions will look like. Johnson said at the beginning of February that the regional tier system might not return in a post-lockdown environment, instead focussing on nation-wide restrictions. At this point, that remains unclear.
But, unlike summer 2020, when restrictions were eased and travel around Europe returned for those who felt comfortable doing so, the outlook for summer 2021 and beyond is different. Primarily, that’s because of the COVID-19 vaccine. And because of the U.K.’s strong vaccine rollout programme, Johnson feels like the country is primed to be able to work its way out of lockdown and back to normality — including holidays.
“We always knew we had the capacity to surge back in the autumn and over the winter months and indeed it has,” Johnson said. “This time as we go into the second half of the year we are going to have the confidence of knowing a huge proportion of the British public — particularly the most vulnerable — will have been vaccinated and probably have received a very high degree of immunity.”
The government has pledged to vaccinate 14 million of the most vulnerable by 15 February. But, even with vaccination rolling out to more eligible groups, there’s still uncertainty about what that means for travel and the timeline on which it may return.
Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething has said that it’s “too uncertain” to say that people will be able to enjoy a typical summer holiday this year.
“I’m optimistic that people will be able to have a holiday break of some kind over the summer, I wouldn’t want to forecast where that would be though,” Gething said.
So, should travellers look at planning a holiday here, close to home, or can we look further afield? According to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, neither — yet.
On Wednesday 10 February, Shapps gave a grim outlook on the holiday front for this summer, advising Britons not to book holidays at this point — neither domestically nor abroad.
“I can’t give you a definitive answer on whether we will be able to take holidays, either at home or abroad,” Shapps said in an interview with Sky News. “Nobody can tell from the point at which we are sitting right now.”
Shapps indicated that travel may not be a possibility until everybody in the country is vaccinated. Additionally, he said that other countries would have to “catch up” in terms of their vaccination rollouts before the U.K. would consider reopening to travel.
In response to the Transport Secretary’s comments, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said that booking a domestic holiday is “a choice for individuals,” noting that the government will lay out its “route map” for the plan out of lockdown on 22 February.
There’s a new concern this summer and beyond for international travel. In the past few weeks, the government has unveiled new, much stricter measures at the border. Among them, all passengers are now required to have a negative COVID-19 test before they board their flight to the U.K., all arriving travellers are required to quarantine for 10 days — some in a government-supervised hotel — and all quarantining travellers have to take two additional COVID-19 tests on days two and eight of their self-isolation period.
The problem with these new restrictions is that the government has provided no insight as to when they may be lifted. If these strict border rules, which were made in order to prevent new variants of the coronavirus from being imported to the U.K., continue through the summer, travellers have a new risk to consider when going abroad.
More specifically, with the new travel ban list, not only are non-nationals and non-residents not permitted to enter the U.K., but those who are permitted to enter have to undergo their quarantine in a hotel. The hotel quarantine rule, which takes effect as of 15 February, requires a single traveller to pay £1,750 for the 10-day quarantine and includes accommodation, transport from the airport and testing on days two and eight.
With no end date in sight for the travel ban and subsequent hotel quarantine restrictions, it could become an even bigger issue if someone finds themself abroad and the country they’re in is added to the travel ban list. Rather than racing home to avoid a 14-day quarantine as was the case with the travel corridor list last summer, travellers may have to race home to avoid a £1,750 added expense by way of hotel quarantine.
One additional concern focuses not on the fact of when the U.K. will lift travel restrictions, but will other countries let Britons in? Greek tourism officials have reportedly said that the country will open its borders to Brits so long as they have been vaccinated.
That all said, if last year is any indication, we should know to take all of this information with a pinch of salt and take an educated approach to booking future holidays. Government officials indicated in early 2020 that summer holidays may be off the table. However, as the travel corridors were unveiled in July and international holidays were readily accessible, that turned out to not be the case. And there’s a chance that’s again the case this year.
But there is a difference between last year and this year, as Shapps pointed out.
“The entire travel corridor policy was on the basis that place you were travelling to had to have lower levels of coronavirus,” Shapps said. “What we are dealing with now are new variants, and we cannot risk it.”
Ultimately, there’s no way to state a date by which we’ll be allowed to leave our homes, head to the airport and hop on an aeroplane to a sandy beach destination. If the travel bug has bitten you during this third — and hopefully final — lockdown, TPG recommends only booking plans with flexible policies.
Ensure that you can either change the dates of your travel or get a refund or travel credits if ongoing restrictions forbid you from travelling. Also, make sure that you have adequate insurance, only book with ATOL- or ABTA-protected companies where relevant and make bookings on a credit card to ensure you a fully protected in case the company you have booked with goes bust.
But, if you would rather be most cautious, it may be best to wait until 22 February for a better idea of what the travel landscape will look like in the coming weeks and months.
Featured photo by Marcutti/Getty Images.
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