Boris Johnson faces mounting pressure from high-level conservatives to resist attempts to extend the blanket travel ban abroad or delay the relaxation of UK restrictions, amid new warnings about rising Covid cases. in Europe.
With scientific advisers warning of the risks of overseas vacations in late spring and summer, figures across the Conservative party demanded that the prime minister reject “over-caution” in reacting to an apparent third wave of Covid. across the continent.
It comes with cases on the rise in countries like France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Turkey. Italy has registered a near doubling in the last month, while Paris has entered a new one-month lockdown to curb the differential. The government’s roadmap says foreign travel from England could resume from May 17 at the earliest, if a number of conditions are met.
It is understood that ministers and industry are looking for a traffic light system that will allow travel abroad this summer. It would see easier access to “green” counties with low virus and variant levels, with stricter conditions applied to “red” countries.
With tensions rising in the party, a number of conservatives said on Saturday that Britain’s successful vaccine program should allow the government to implement stricter tests and rules for high-risk countries, rather than prolonging a blanket ban. of travelling. Graham Brady, chairman of the powerful 1922 Conservative Parliamentary Committee, said: “The success of the British vaccination program should allow international travel to resume safely. It is very likely that Covid is now an endemic virus; there may be variations in the next few years. We have to focus on rational mitigation and not continue to resort to disastrous lockdowns. “
Huw Merriman, Conservative Chair of the Transport Selection Committee, said: “Given the successful launch of the vaccine in the UK, it is essential that we stick to our dates and deliver a dividend in the form of international summer travel. This will give everyone a boost and help preserve jobs in the travel industry. “
David Davis, the former cabinet minister, backed a “smart lockdown on third wave countries” rather than extending a total foreign travel ban. “You use vaccination passports, more tests, more quarantine, more absolute blockades in high-risk countries. That’s the set of things we should use. “
Desmond Swayne, former minister and critic of the closure, said: “The point of having a successful vaccine campaign is that we want to take advantage of it. We must not forget the enormous economic costs of continuing the blockade for one more day. I feel like we are being overly cautious and not having a sufficient sense of urgency about the damage. “
Adam Afriyie of the Covid Recovery Group of MPs said: “It is difficult to understand why, just at the moment when the vaccine is starting to work to prevent serious illness and death, we are suddenly moving the goals and prolonging these endless cycles. of blockades and restrictions, with all the damage to people’s well-being, health and livelihoods that we know they are causing. “
Charles Walker, vice chairman of the 1922 Committee, said: “People are exhausted, they are tired. They are still scared. The last thing we want to do is increase that anxiety. We should reduce it. Scientists have to let the government send the message now. “
They spoke after a scientist advising the government warned that the prospect of a vacation abroad this summer seemed “extremely unlikely.” Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the government’s Spi-M modeling group, said there was a danger of newer variants more resistant to current vaccines, such as the South African variant.
Martin Hibberd, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “Hopefully, the new vaccines that may become available later this year may offer more protection against a wider range of disease-causing strains. Covid-19. But until the advent of these vaccines, travel, along with large numbers of cases within a country, offers a potential route to further increase the number of hospitals. Ideally, border controls and a working contact tracing system should be sufficient to allow more travel, but without this, testing and quarantine appear to have a better chance of success. “
It comes after a record week for vaccination rates, with more than half of all adults in the UK now vaccinated with a first dose. More than 700,000 vaccinations were recorded on Saturday. The government said 96 more people had died after testing positive for Covid, bringing the UK total to 126,122. The number of positive cases increased by 5,587.
However, UK lockdown plans are also under pressure from continued threats from the EU to ban exports of the bloc’s AstraZeneca vaccine unless it accelerates its delivery schedule. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “We have the possibility to ban planned exports. This is a message to AstraZeneca: do your part of the deal to Europe before you start shipping to other countries. “
Government experts insisted that the timetable for easing the blockade was underway. “We have now vaccinated more than half of the adult population and will meet our goal of vaccinating priority groups by mid-April,” said a government source. “As the prime minister has made clear, our roadmap plans have not changed and we are on track to return to normal as long as the data continues in the right direction and we meet our four tests.”
The opposition parties are calling for caution on the government’s route out of lockdown. Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow Home Secretary, called for a “more comprehensive hotel quarantine system without further delay.” He added: “Of course, we all want international travel to resume, but safety must come first. It is too early to say if there may be any change in travel advice on May 17 as the numbers in many European countries are skyrocketing. “Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said:” It is absolutely crucial that we are not reopening international travel until it is absolutely safe. Ultimately this issue shows that we cannot just control the virus here in the UK, we have to work across Europe and the world to control it everywhere. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism