This article was written by Damian and published in the local Petersfield Post and Herald editions:
"I had the opportunity recently to meet the team at Petersfield-based Meon Valley Travel, partly to talk about their Travel Trade Gazette award for Top Travel Agency in South East of England, but also to reflect on the impact of the pandemic.
Meon Valley are both a local travel agency and a leading travel management company with national clients. It was encouraging to hear the real optimism of Managing Director James Beagrie about the future prospects for the sector. But equally, sobering to consider what it has dealt with this past year.
There is no doubt that the travel and aviation sectors have endured enormous disruption in the past year, and that impacts our local economy here in East Hampshire, with a key part of the cruise sector in Southampton, Southampton Airport, and the close access we have to other key transport hubs.
The travel sector is not only an important employer directly, it is often among the reasons why other companies choose to be based here.
I know how important holidays are for people, and despite there being wonderful places to visit here in England, the opportunity to explore and spend time abroad is often a highlight of the year. And it’s not just for holidays; there are many families who have been separated by the measures both here and abroad.
The recent report from the Global Travel Taskforce outlines a framework for how international travel could resume from 17th May - step 3 of the roadmap – and seeks to balance the challenges posed by the return of trips abroad.
As anticipated, the framework will be based on a traffic light system which will categorise countries based on the degree of risk they pose. Key factors in the assessment will include the percentage of population vaccinated, the rate in infection, the prevalence of Variants of Concern and the country’s access to reliable scientific data including genomic sequencing.
Countries will be given a Green, Amber or Red categorisation, which will determine the level of restrictions and checks applied to people returning from those countries.
Arrivals from Green countries will need to take a pre-departure test as well as a PCR test on or before day 2 of arriving back into the UK but will not need to quarantine – unless of course they receive a positive test result.
Amber will mean the same pre-departure test, plus PCR tests on day 2 and day 8, as well as the need to self isolate for ten days. There will also be the option for Test to Release on day 5 to end self isolation early.
Red will have the strictest measures, requiring a 10 day stay in a managed quarantine hotel - in the same way this applies to the current list of ‘red list’ countries - in addition to the pre-departure and day 2 and 8 PCR tests.
Despite the sector and travellers being understandably keen to know which countries will be allocated to each category, we will need to wait until early May before that is possible. This will enable the most up to date information to be used and to minimise the chance of changes being made ahead of the 17th May date.
A ‘Green Watchlist’ will also be introduced to give advance warning of which countries are most at risk of moving from Green to Amber. This will provide some more information to help the sector and travellers prepare for the potential requirements that may be applied to trips they are planning to take.
A formal review will take place on the 28th June, with further reviews planned to happen no later than the 31st July and 1st October.
The issue of vaccine certification remains complex and sensitive. Of course we have long had immunisation certification to travel to certain parts of the world, but given the extent of this virus globally obviously there is a big difference in potential scale - as well as usage. There are different questions again about domestic use.
I had the opportunity to raise this directly with the Information Commissioner, who reinforced the need for us to understand degree of necessity, whether it was proportionate and how transparent its use would be. These are all important questions that the review will need to consider.
The pandemic has restricted our lives in a very fundamental way over the past 12 months - the phrase “get away from it all” has perhaps never been so apt, even as we continue to fight what is a global scourge."