Travel companies have expressed frustration after Boris Johnson held off from confirming a date for international travel to resume.
All shops in England will be allowed to reopen from next Monday, while pubs and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers outdoors, in line with the previously announced roadmap for easing restrictions.
However, the travel industry was disappointed with the lack of clarity on whether holidays will be allowed from 17 May, the date by which the government said it was aiming to restart international travel.
The government will bring in a “traffic light” system to allow travel to some lower-risk countries. Travel to and from “green” countries will be allowed with no quarantine requirement, although coronavirus tests will still be mandatory before and after travel. Johnson did not provide any details on which countries would probably be “green” or whether any holidays would be allowed from 17 May.
Addressing the likelihood of international travel in a press briefing on Monday evening, Johnson said: “We are hopeful that we can get going from 17 May, but I do not wish to give hostages to fortune or to underestimate the difficulties we are seeing in some of the destination countries.”
Heathrow airport’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, said it was “disappointing that the opportunity has been missed”. He said “a clearer timeline for the return to international travel is needed”.
Mark Tanzer, chief executive of the Association of British Travel Agents, a trade association, welcomed the government’s plans to bring in a traffic light system, but said the requirement for testing for green destinations would put off would-be travellers.
“A priority for the industry is a more stable system which avoids the situation of last summer, where travel to many destinations was quickly turned on and off,” Tanzer said. “Destinations should not be suddenly closed off unless variants of concern dictate that this must happen.”
The Prospect trade union, which represents aviation professionals, said the industry needed certainty. “Aviation needs months to plan for restart, allowing passengers to book, and skills to be supported in areas like air traffic control,” said Mike Clancy, Prospect’s general secretary. “We needed certainty and a promise of additional support, but instead we have more delay and vague allusions to something in the future.”
Lobby groups representing airlines and airports also raised concerns over the continued need for testing before travel to “green” countries.
Other parts of the economy will be given the go-ahead to restart, with up to 402,000 non-essential shops, 7,000 gyms and leisure centres and 21,000 personal care premises expected to be opening from April 12, according to Altus Group, a property adviser.
Another 38,000 pubs and 27,000 restaurants will technically be allowed to serve food and drink outside, but only a small proportion will have the ability to serve outdoors. The British Beer and Pub Association, a lobby group, said it expected about 40% of pubs – about 15,000 – to reopen.
“That first pint back in the beer garden is going to be a special moment,” said Emma McClarkin, the BBPA’s chief executive. But the group had “deep concerns” over government proposals to introduce vaccine passports and possibly ask landlords to bar those without evidence of a vaccine or a test.
Johnson said there was no plan to introduce the Covid-19 certificates at the pub door even after 17 May, when punters could be allowed back inside English pubs.
Bans on taking payment at the bar were “completely unfair and illogical”, given that cafés did not face the same restriction, added McClarkin.