Calls to speed up airport Covid tests as Cyprus and Lithuania drop off UK’s ‘green list’

Holidaymakers in Cyprus have until 4am on 1 November to get home before quarantine restrictions come into force. The island’s removal from the government’s travel corridor list prompted travel companies to issue yet more pleas for an effective airport testing system to allow overseas travel to begin to recover. Lithuania was also removed from the list. In both countries the seven-day infection rate had risen above 100 cases per 100,000.

The restrictions come at the end of the season for Cyprus, so their effect will be less harsh than it would have been earlier in the season. Nevertheless, travel companies said the announcement on 29 October by Grant Shapps will further erode what little confidence is left in overseas travel.

“It’s another nail in the coffin [for travel],” said Noel Josephides, founder of tour operator Sunvil. “The government has known they had to do something about airport testing months ago; how they have left it so late absolutely defeats me.”

Paul Charles of the PC Agency, a campaigner for airport testing, said the decisions behind the country quarantine rules were unfathomable. “Germany’s infection rate is up 200%. Case numbers soaring and it’s going into mini lockdown, so why isn’t that as high a risk as Cyprus?”

The current rate of infection in Cyprus is 112 per 100,000; in Lithuania the figure is 140.

Last week news that the Canary islands were back on the ‘green’ list’, opening the destination up for a last-minute half-term holiday boost, alongside the Maldives, Denmark and Mykonos, was described as “a bit of light at the end of a very dark tunnel for the travel industry” by the Association of British Travel Agents. This week no countries were added to the travel corridor list and an Abta spokesperson said the optimism was short-lived. “Last-minute changes like this further erode consumer confidence in overseas travel and serve as a stark reminder of the urgent need to introduce testing to cut quarantine.”

It advised anyone due to travel to Cyprus imminently to speak to their travel company to discuss alternative options.

World Tourism Organization figures released this week show a 70% fall in international arrivals worldwide for the first eight months of 2020. In July and August the figures were 81% and 79% respectively. The downturn translates to a loss of $730bn in export revenues from international tourism.

On Friday the World Travel & Tourism Council is expected to warn of catastrophic impact on jobs in the sector, with many millions being lost globally “if barriers to global travel remain in place”.

Josephides said the UK travel sector had been left to collapse: “Our feeling is that the government thinks we’re expendable – if we go out of business what does it matter? There is a lot of fuss about the hospitality industry but when it’s open they take their money and keep it. In the case of companies subject to the travel package regulations, any money we have taken from anyone, we have had to give back. For most of us it’s a matter of how long the cash lasts [before we go out of business].”

The government’s travel taskforce is expected to report on how a testing system will work in early November.

“The system badly and urgently needs to be replaced by a proper testing regime,” said Charles.

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