Every Thursday, the transport minister performs a travel restrictions hokey-cokey. It needn’t be like this, argues Chris Moss, as he reimagines the weekly update as an enlightened Christmas present to all of us.
Dear Would-be Travellers of England,
Thursday at 5pm has become the traditional time for my travel tweets, which I like to think of, in Christmas party spirit, as a lively hokey-cokey of air corridors, PCR tests, quarantines at both ends of a flight, and holidays in unlikely places.
However, as the festive period approaches, and I have had time to think while helping Ms Shapps prepare the Christmas feast, I’ve decided to apply a cracker-full of common sense, logic and informed judgment in an attempt to normalise air travel to countries which are actually open to British travellers. This deviates sharply from the dictatorial, behind-closed-doors and amateurist approach of the previous nine months; but this government is all about breaking barriers and levelling up, or down, or taking back control… you know the kind of thing I’m talking about.
Therefore, I’ll not waste any more of our mutual time issuing rules on travel to countries such as Uruguay (exempt from December 10, dis-exempt from tomorrow) or Thailand (exempt since September 10), or other places that were never open to any of us in the first place. Nor will we seek to grant tourism permits to visit countries that are off the tourism radar such as Angola, Timor-Leste, or defence procurement ally Saudi Arabia – which, I’ve just checked, is also closed to us, anyway.
Instead, this popular people’s government shall seek to provide urgently needed Christmas cheer with rational, safe recommendations for travel during the holiday season – including countries people might actually want to go to.
On our doorstep and usually connected by affordable, direct flights, are countries open to British passport holders that are, as the latest 7-day infection rate statistics indicate, somewhat safer than most of our own regions. Indeed, much of Europe has seen substantial falls in rates of Covid-19 cases during the past week and beyond, with Southern Europe especially promising. Apart from Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Slovenia and Turkey, many countries most popular with British travellers are seeing declining rates.
Thus, I am please to authorise travel corridors with immediate effect from any airport in England to the welcoming nations of Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece (and all of it islands), Poland, Portugal, and Spain (including the Balearics and Canary Islands).
We know people are in urgent need of a break from work (or the eternal furlough) as well as all the novel stresses of online schooling, tier restrictions, total lockdowns and other draconian measures. A romantic stroll in the park in midsummer is one thing; a solitary tramp with your newly purchased puppy in driving sleet is another. Those prone to seasonal affective disorder are especially vulnerable. Winter sun and ski holidays alike are known to be a boost to people’s physical and mental wellbeing.
During winter, the milder weather elsewhere, and medical advice supporting spending time outside, make holidays in tropical and southern nations particularly beneficial.
Therefore, we are also allowing air corridors – and fully insured holidays – to Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Egypt, The Gambia, Guyana, Honduras, Kenya, Mexico, Namibia (ignore my last Tweet!), Nicaragua, Panama, South Africa and Peru, and the islands thereof. Many of these are large nations, boasting large areas of scantily populated wilderness; it is quite possible to take a responsible holiday in such places and minimise contact with strangers and those outside the routinely tested local hotel and tourism sectors.
In a radical shift from our earlier approach, we are trusting tour operators and holidaymakers to be judicious in their planning of trips. This follows extended discussion with geography teachers, tourism boffins, supremely qualified travel journalists and cabinet colleagues, including someone called Nigel Huddleston. Never heard of him? He’s the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State responsible for… Tourism. We didn’t involve him in the recent 10-month will-we-won’t-we saga, because he only took the job in February, and seemed unprepared. But someone happened to mention that UK tourism is worth £106 billion per year to this country, and globally around £6.6 trillion; it therefore made good sense to involve someone paid by the taxpayer to oversee tourism.
Nor are me and my team, and Nigel, planning to spend the Yule season spinning our globes and making bucket lists. I am currently lobbying Algeria, Canada, Greenland, India, Japan, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Taiwan, Uruguay and Vietnam – countries far healthier than our own, on current evidence – with a view to establishing air corridors in the new year. Several of these are lovingly listed on our air corridor list and yet closed to us, with or without the new bluebottle-coloured passports.
Following grown-up discussions with colleagues in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, we have agreed to adhere to the same commitments. After all, most flights depart from London and the last significant flight to use the “international” airport at Cardiff was a BOAC-liveried retired 747 that flew all the way to the Vale of Glamorgan.
At the same time, we are united in pushing through airport testing at UK borders, and aiding foreign governments – many of which are highly dependent on tourism revenues – to fast-stream their own testing regimes to reduce or remove any unnecessary and punitive quarantines for travellers seeking to take a holiday, and invest their hard currency in the UK and overseas economies.
So, after a difficult 2020, we fully expect 2021 to be a positive-thinking, forward-looking, travel-friendly year, with decisions made for the medium to long term, based on advice from travel as well as public health experts, economic as well as gerontological realities, and human dreams and desires as well as political consequences. I shall not be joining you on a flight any day soon, not after banning my own Spanish holiday mid-holiday earlier in the year! But I will be poring over my Secret Santa gift of an atlas, to ensure there’s no more confusion over what the tourism industry and travellers want, and what my trusted number-crunchers want to upload to the pages which are in fact the responsibility of Dom (the elected one, not the sacked one) and which are about as much use to prospective holidaymakers and tour operators as the promise of a third Heathrow runway, say, or the lavishing of a universal right to all Britons to visit the Federated States of Micronesia, when that island paradise is in fact in a “state of public health emergency” and closed to all-comers.
So no more “You Put Your Left Hand In, Your Left Leg Out” from me.
Instead: Hands, Face, Space. Isn’t Travel Ace?
Have a great Christmas!
The Right-Onorable Grant “the chap” Shapps