Today’s big question

Is it safe to travel abroad this summer?

MPs warn that airports are ‘breeding ground’ for coronavirus

Boris Johnson has urged Britons to be cautious about planning foreign holidays in order to avoid an “influx of disease”, as the government prepares to announce how and when international travel can resume.

The current ban on holidays abroad is set to ease on 17 May, with further details expected in the coming days. But a group of MPs has warned that greater curbs on travel are needed to prevent “new Covid variants fuelling a third wave” of infections in the UK.

What else did the MPs say?

The all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus yesterday called on ministers to “discourage all but essential overseas travel and introduce stronger protections against Covid-19 at the UK’s borders” in order to stop a fresh influx of the coronavirus into the country. 

The group said expert witnesses had given evidence describing how airports were “becoming a ‘breeding ground’ for the virus”, with people from countries of varying Covid risk “mixing in overcrowded arrival halls”.

Lucy Moreton of the Immigration Services Union had revealed that border staff were spotting around 100 fake Covid test certificates a day, “mostly if there is a spelling error, and that the current system is predominantly based on trust”, the MPs report.

 Another witness, public health expert Dr Gabriel Scally, said the number of imported Covid mutations could be much higher than official data suggests, as only 5% to 10% of PCR tests are checked for variants, and this analysis can take “several weeks”.

Summarising the findings, the group’s vice-chair, Scottish National Party politician Dr Philippa Whitford, said that ministers must “learn from the mistakes made last year, when the premature reopening of international travel contributed to a second wave”.

What is Boris Johnson advising?

During a local elections campaign visit to Hartlepool yesterday, the PM told reporters: “We do want to do some opening up on 17 May but I don’t think that the people of this country want to see an influx of disease from anywhere else. I certainly don’t and we have got to be very, very tough, and we have got to be as cautious as we can, whilst we continue to open up.”

Johnson was “immediately accused of an ‘overly cautious’ approach by Tory MPs and travel industry chiefs”, reports The Telegraph’s home affairs editor Charles Hyman, who notes that the PM’s comments came as the European Commission recommended opening the EU’s borders to fully vaccinated travellers.

Which countries may get green light?

The government is expected to announce a traffic light system for travel, with Britons bypassing quarantine if they visit “green list” countries - those deemed to be safest. Travellers coming back from “amber list” countries will have to self-isolate at home for ten days, while those returning from “red list” nations will be forced to quarantine in a government-approved hotel.

The Telegraph says the green list is expected to be limited to a “tiny handful” of countries including Gibraltar, Israel, Iceland and Malta, while popular holiday spots such as Spain, Greece, France and Italy are likely to be on the amber list.

“Portugal is the only big European holiday destination with a chance of making the green list from 17 May,” says the newspaper. However, the paper adds that new countries could be added to the safe list every three weeks.

Government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that if infection levels in a country such as France or Italy drop to the same as those in the UK then “there’s no risk associated with travelling overseas”.

He added: “The risk comes from going from a place like the UK with very low infection levels and going to a place with much higher infection levels and therefore having the risk of bringing infection back.”

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