This week the Government is set to announce which countries they plan to put on the ‘green list’ for foreign travel, and many people can’t wait.
Oh, to lie on a beach with an ice-cold drink and forget the troubles of the horrendous year we’ve had. It makes me emotional just thinking about it – especially as I have family abroad.
But a couple of weeks ago the cross-party inquiry I’m chairing into the Government’s handling of the pandemic heard stark evidence that has made me think again about my summer plans.
Our All-Party Parliamentary Group is asking the Government to discourage people from travelling abroad until it is safer to do so.
At its centre, our report highlights the risk that international travel could lead to new Covid-19 variants of concern entering the UK.
There is still a lot of uncertainty about this cruel disease. But we know that the biggest threat to the progress we’ve made is the emergence of new mutant strains that are more transmissible and resistant to current vaccines.
We’ve already seen cases of the worrying Indian variant triple to 400 in the past couple of weeks, which Public Health England has said is largely linked to overseas travel.
This is not helped by our worries about how this is being managed on the ground.
A representative from the Immigration Services Union, which represents border staff, told an evidence hearing of our cross-party group that people arriving from ‘red list’ countries are often mixing with other passengers in overcrowded arrival halls.
Large queues of two to three hours are expected when more passengers come through, even if e-gates open, so you could be stood in line in a poorly-ventilated hall side-by-side with passengers arriving from countries where surges are happening.
But what about the tests? Everyone is meant to get a PCR test and receive a negative result before boarding. Shockingly, border staff are spotting around 100 fake test certificates a day. Most of these were only identified because they contained a spelling error, meaning many more are no doubt slipping through the net, and we can expect the number to rise.
Given that there is already evidence that some variants of concern have been imported into the country, it is deeply concerning that ministers are even contemplating giving overseas holidays the green light later this week. They are showing a shocking level of complacency about the threat posed by overseas travel.
The Government risks throwing away the hard-won progress we’ve made against the pandemic and the sacrifices the public have made in recent months. We’ve already seen surge testing for the South African and Indian variants – that should make us cautious.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus is calling for urgent action to stop new variants in their tracks.
We want to see measures introduced to reduce overcrowding and queues in arrival halls, as well as to separate out those arriving from red- and amber-list countries.
This should be accompanied by strict international standards that will help detect fake Covid-19 test certificates.
Crucially, we are demanding that the Government finally fixes the failing Test, Trace and Isolate system, including by providing enough financial support for those asked to self-isolate. Once new Covid-19 variants enter the UK, we must be able to track and stop them effectively.
The ongoing failure to fix this issue despite repeated warnings from scientists is one of the biggest chinks in our armour against the coronavirus.
Until these issues are resolved, we believe the current restrictions on overseas holidays should be maintained. We all want to get back to being able to go on holiday abroad, but we need to wait until it’s safe to do so.
If we were given the choice, I believe many of us would rather go without a holiday abroad this summer if that helps to avoid another lockdown this winter. In fact, a recent poll found a clear majority of people support extending the current ban on overseas holidays until the end of the year.
At the same time, we are calling on the Government to provide proper support for businesses and workers in the hard-hit travel industry.
That might be expensive in the short-term, but it is far better to invest in protecting jobs and staying safe than to throw the dice and risk a crippling third wave.
I don’t want us to be forced to lock down the country again, which would be so devastating for all of us, for our families and our communities.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab this week said we are now entering the final lap in the fight against coronavirus. Hopefully he is right, and we are entering the last stages of the pandemic.
But how many matches have you seen that end up being lost in the final few minutes?
This is not the time to let our guard down. We must ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated and stop the Government snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.