Potential chaos could unfold from next week when the UK Government is expected to formally lift the ban on ‘illegal travel’ on the 17th May, with passenger confusion over Covid testing protocols to ‘green-list’ destination countries.
Transport Minister Grant Shapps and the Government has had shambolic communication of the traffic light system for travel and its ‘green list’ of 12 designated countries. The Transport Minister and the Government have failed to communicate testing and vaccination protocols for entry into the 12 designated countries and which were open to receiving passengers from the UK. This is going to leave airline passengers in complete confusion and disarray over which Covid tests they are expected to have for entry into their destination country and whether the country will even accept inbound travel and receive them.
The Government communication around the ‘green list’ and traffic light system has only dealt with the quarantine restrictions for re-entry back into the UK. It has not communicated clearly and effectively what the entry and testing requirements are into designated countries. This in itself has created utter confusion for the public and airline passengers wanting to book holidays to those destinations. Many airline passengers will be thinking they don’t need to be tested – confusing re-entry protocols to the UK – when in actual fact the destination country will have its own entry criteria for testing and vaccination. Some passengers may also confuse the existing NHS testing as a secure test result to be Fit to Fly. Many of the countries on the list are not accepting airline passengers into their country at the moment.
With the announcement of the 12-country ‘green-list’ there has been a huge surge of flight bookings with airlines in anticipation of the travel restriction and ban being lifted on the 17th May. Extra flights have been put on by airlines and regional airports. The reality is that whilst you can book a flight and fly to a country, when you get there you won’t be let in. Many airlines have passengers booked onto flights for Portugal next week, but when you arrive you won’t be allowed entry into the destination country due to complex rules on entry and stringent restrictions on testing and vaccination. At the moment Portugal is closed to UK passengers in accordance with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office guidance. There is the very real danger that passengers could fly to Portugal and not be allowed to disembark from the plane and be returned to their home destination.
We also expect to see a lot of passengers who will be frantically rushing to get last-minute rapid PCR tests before flying– to the few countries that will accept airline passengers – and when they also realise the destination country test requirements. There are also going to be a lot of very disappointed passengers furious not only with the escalating costs, but with the lack of clear communication to destination countries from Grant Shapps and the Government.
Whilst Australia is on the list issued by the Government, the reality is that Australia has locked its doors until 2022 for tourists. The same can be said of Israel and many other countries that are not allowing airline passengers from the UK. In real terms we have had an announcement of 12 countries we can return from, and a traffic light system, but no clear guidance on which countries will accept airline passengers and what their entry requirements are. It would have been far more sensible and logical for the Transport Minister and the Government to have announced which countries will accept airline passengers and what the entry requirements to those countries are in respect of test types and vaccination.
There is also a great deal of complexity to the traffic light system. This is where many of the major airlines will come unstuck. TUI Airways, for example, announced its green and amber packages and associated low budget costs, including PCR home testing kits to a big fanfare last week. But you simply cannot properly set the parameters of any ‘green’ or ‘amber’ travel package until you know what the destination country parameters and protocols are. They also have the issue of potential disruption to the postal PCR test kits being sent out as both laboratories and the postal service struggle to cope with demand.
These protocols will also change on a regular basis as new variants of the disease emerge, which will impact each country and travel restrictions. We have had a number of AKEA Life and Salutaris People clients booking holidays for countries that were on the Government ‘green list’, but who have since realised that the country in question is not accepting passengers and have had to re book their holidays.
As the majority of airlines are pushing towards postal delivery of self-administered PCR test kits, we could see more Covid testing chaos with delays on postal test kits. This stark warning comes as the pent-up demand for air travel continues and there are genuine concerns of a repeat of last December’s postal test chaos in the UK. There were huge delays in the delivery of home-based PCR test kits by the postal service, which airlines are now relying on. The delays left airline passengers with test results being delivered late, ‘unclear” test results (meaning passengers had to take secondary testing), tests going missing and, in some cases, passengers missing flights all together.
Note: Salutaris People is the clinical lead partner in rapid PCR test facilities at UK airports. The healthcare company is on the UK Government’s approved list of Covid-19 test providers.